Header graphic for print
Real Property & Development Review

Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance Survives Constitutional Challenge

Posted in Land Use

Authored by: Jim Greenfield and Clayton Graham

This week, the Division One Court of Appeals filed its opinion in the case of Connor v. City of Seattle, which addressed a challenge to the application of Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) to certain homeowners’ (the Connors) residential property in West Seattle.  When the Connors bought the property, it had a designated Seattle landmark — a 1906 house built in what is described as the “Seattle classic box” style.  Because the property has a large, sloping, front yard, the Connors subdivided the parcel into multiple lots and proposed building additional residences on the newly-created lots, while preserving the 1906 landmark house on the remainder of the old lot.  When Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board—and later the City Hearing Examiner—denied the Connors’ application for a certificate of approval under the LPO for building the new homes, the Connors sued under Washington’s Land Use Petition Act (LUPA).

After losing in Superior Court, the Connors appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the Connors’ suit.  The bulk of the opinion addresses the Connors’ claims that the LPO is constitutionally void for vagueness, based on the Connors’ contention that the LPO does not specify what kind of development would be permitted on their property.  The Court rejected the “void for vagueness” claim, noting that “the LPO contains contextual standards and a process for clarification and guidance as to individual sites.”  According to the court, these traits shielded the LPO from a “void for vagueness” claim.  The Court summarily dismissed the Connors’ claims that the “site” was never designated along with the house, that the denial violated RCW 82.02.020 (which prohibits certain development conditions), or that it constituted a taking or a substantive due process violation.  Owners of City landmarks should take care to ensure that any proposed development on their property is consistent with preservation of the features designated under the LPO.