Land-Use Decision Overturned - Judge overrules hearings board; backs landowners and county



A judge's ruling will allow property owners to develop home sites on almost 1,100 acres of farm land northeast of Naches that has sat idle for years.

Yakima County Superior Court Judge Susan Hahn, in a memorandum opinion filed Tuesday, overturned a land-use appeals board ruling against the rezone.

In a six-page opinion, Hahn stated the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board made mistakes in reaching its decision.

Last year the board ruled the county violated the 1990 state law by improperly changing the property's zoning. The board determined the county failed to show adequate evidence to support the rezone.

Barring an appeal to the state Court of Appeals, the ruling means Jim and Charlotte Caton can subdivide their dryland property into homesites averaging five acres in size.

The Catons had sought the zoning change because the property lacked water and couldn't be farmed. The property is located along the Naches-Wenas Road, about two miles northeast of Naches.

Attorneys for the Catons and the county said Hahn's ruling is a victory for the county's ability to determine how land can be used.

"The really important part of the decision is the court recognized the county's authority and discretion to make land-use decisions," said Jamie Carmody, a Yakima attorney who represents the Catons.

David Mann, a Seattle attorney representing a citizens group that challenged the rezone, did not return a telephone call Thursday seeking comment.

A local group, the Wenas Citizens Association, contended there had been no change in circumstances sufficient to justify the rezone.

But Hahn wrote counties are entitled to a presumption that their decisions are correct unless it can be shown a clear error was made.

"The county correctly applied its test to the facts presented. The GMHB disagreed and would not have reached the same conclusions," Hahn wrote. "However, these conclusions are not the GMHB's to make."


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