February 22, 2012

20 years of Pacific Northwest victories: Skamania County v. Columbia River Gorge Commission

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Over the next few months, Brian Hodges and I will be highlighting some of PLF’s significant accomplishments in the Pacific Northwest to celebrate 20 years of PLF in the “PNW.”  Today is the story of Brian and Jody Bea, a Skamania County, Washington, couple who won the right to finish building their dream home, with help from PLF.

Jody and Brian Bea

In 1996, the Beas set out to build a one-story house, barn, and shop on 40 acres they owned in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.  The county approved the Beas’ plans in 1997, and submitted the proposal to the Columbia River Gorge Commission, a federally chartered interstate body that has jurisdiction over certain activities in the scenic area.  When the Gorge Commission did not oppose the county’s approval, the Beas began working on their home.  Then, over a year later, the Gorge Commission decided it did not like the way the Beas’ house looked, so it started an enforcement action against the county for approving construction of the house, and ordered the county to force the Beas to build their house somewhere else.  By this time, the Beas had already spent over $200,000 on a house that was half finished.

Representing the Beas, PLF took the case to the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that the Gorge Commission lacked authority to stop the Beas’ construction because the commission failed to appeal the county’s approval of the project when construction was first approved.  In 2001, the Court issued a unanimous opinion agreeing with PLF.  Importantly, the Court’s opinion affirmed the “strong public policy” of land use “finality,” which instructs courts to strictly enforce statutory time limits when third parties challenge land use approvals, out of respect for the rights of property owners like the Beas.

Today, the Beas enjoy their home in the beautiful Columbia Gorge.  And Washington property owners may enjoy a sense of certainty that they will be allowed to finish projects they start once approved, thanks to the precedent PLF established by litigating the Beas’ case.

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