UPDATE: High court gives Clark County relief from annexation headache

It could have been forced to take back land from cities




The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday handed a win to Clark County by sparing officials from having to answer this question: “How do you take back land that has already been annexed by cities?”

The justices said the Washington Court of Appeals went out-of-bounds in 2011 when it invalidated annexations by the cities of Ridgefield and Camas. The annexations of the three parcels weren’t even part of a larger land-use appeal, the Supreme Court said.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to address the annexed lands is contrary to our well-established standards of appellate jurisdiction,” Justice Steven Gonzales wrote for the majority.

The land annexed by Ridgefield and Camas covered hundreds of acres of agricultural land, including the Kennedy dairy south of Ridgefield, the Johnston dairy north of Lacamas Lake and Green Mountain Golf Course.

The 2011 Court of Appeals ruling was seen as a win for anti-sprawl advocates, as it said once a county opens up land for development, a city can’t quickly annex the land to avoid a legal challenge.

But the ruling, had it been allowed to stand, would have done more than set a precedent allowing an appellate court to take up issues that parties hadn’t appealed, said Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Cook. It would have also forced the county and cities of Ridgefield and Camas to figure out how to undo the years-old annexations.

The annexations were final in April 2008, Cook said.

“How do you unwind that? That was something we had not figured out,” she said.

The case before the Court of Appeals involved several contested parcels that the county had designated urban growth areas, setting them up to be annexed into cities. Vancouver attorney John Karpinski, the Clark County Natural Resources Council and Futurewise argued to the Growth Management Hearings Board that the county violated the Growth Management Act. The board agreed, but the ruling came down a month after Camas and Ridgefield finalized the annexations.

Issues involving other parcels were appealed to Clark County Superior Court. The case then went to the Court of Appeals, and appellate judges asked attorneys to file supplemental briefings regarding the lands annexed by Camas and Ridgefield.

Justices Barbara Madsen, Charles W. Johnson, Susan Owens, Mary E. Fairhurst, James M. Johnson and Justice Pro Tem Tom Chambers joined Gonzalez in the majority.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Debra L. Stephens said she would dismiss the claims regarding the annexations as moot in the context of this case, but she felt the justices in the majority opinion did a “disservice to the Court of Appeals by not respecting its discretion to address the issues involving the annexed lands.”

Stephens was joined by Justice Charles K. Wiggins.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.