The abrupt repeal of a controversial rezoning along the White Salmon River has put a years-long legal battle in limbo.
Klickitat County commissioners last month voted to undo a zoning change that affected more than 1,000 acres along the river. That action is the subject of a lawsuit that had reached the state Court of Appeals. The court now has asked the involved parties to weigh in on whether the repeal has rendered the case moot.
Klickitat County had pursued a series of changes it says would better control expected growth near the river. Environmental groups Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge argued that the proposal, which includes new residential zoning and smaller lot sizes, would lead to sprawl and threaten a sensitive watershed.
The ordinance repealing the change, which commissioners approved June 9, doesn’t take effect until July 20. The ordinance cites ongoing legal wrangling and lack of support among the reasons for the reversal.
“Such endless litigation is wearing, and can, particularly in rural areas with limited resources, have the ultimate effect of eroding the very objectives litigants seek,” the ordinance read. “This type of litigation is not unusual in land use matters. Unfortunately, the county finds that at this juncture, there are very few citizens who wish the update to remain in place.”
Klickitat County had adopted the changes in 2012. The environmental groups who challenged it scored a victory in 2013 when a Clark County Superior Court judge ruled that the county did not follow required rules and proper review, and did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives.
The case eventually made its way to the state appellate court and was the subject of a hearing in Vancouver earlier this year. Even if the case is found to be moot, the court still has the ability to issue a ruling, said Nathan Baker, staff attorney for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
Baker said it “would have been an uphill battle” for the county keep the zone change intact and reverse the lower court’s decision on appeal, though the case technically remains active.
The rezone would have allowed 259 new homes over a 20-year period around Husum and BZ Corner, according to the county. Attorneys representing the county argued that officials carefully considered the environment in their decisions.
Neither Klickitat County nor the Friends groups have formally responded to the court’s question of whether the case is moot with the zone change being repealed. Either way, a ruling could help inform future decisions and actions, said Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney David Quesnel.
“I think it benefits not only our county but other counties,” Quesnel said.
The court asked for a response within 10 days. The involved parties have requested an extension and could weigh in by early August.