Anderson owned some land in
Issaquah that was zoned for commercial use. He wanted to build some retail
stores. He applied for a permit from the Issaquah Development Commission.
They rejected his designs.
They rejected the designs on
the basis that they didn't fit with the "character of
Issaquah." Aka, the building looked like an ugly warehouse.
Anderson made several changes
to the design, but the Commission rejected him again. He tried a third
time, and a fourth, but he was still rejected.
The Commission did not give
Anderson specific guidance on what needed to be done in order to get
approved. They only said that the building didn't look like they wanted
it to look. They made some vague suggestions for which building materials
to use, but felt it was Anderson's responsibility to come up with a
design they liked, it wasn't their responsibility to design Anderson's
building for him.
Anderson spent $250k trying
to design something the Commission would accept.
Anderson appealed to the
Issaquah City Council, but they rejected his appeal. Anderson sued.
Anderson argued that the
building design requirements contained in the Issaquah Municipal Code
were unconstitutionally vague.
The Trial Court found for
Issaquah. Anderson appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed and
ordered Issaquah to issue Anderson a building certificate.
The Appellate Court found
that the requirements did not give "effective or meaningful
guidance." In other words, the requirements were too subjective.
The code said things like
buildings had to be "harmonious" and that "monotony
should be avoided."
Many of the words used in
the code did not have settled common law meanings, and were not
technical words commonly understood in the building design industry.
The Court found that the
Issaquah Building Code was "the very epitome of discretionary,
arbitrary, enforcements of the law." And that's unconstitutional.
are not impossible to define in a code or ordinance, but you'd have to
do a better job than was done here.
Anderson had also argued
that Issaquah has no power to deny a building permit for aesthetic
reasons alone. However, the Appellate Court rejected this argument.
Considering that Anderson
spent $250k trying to figure out how to get a permit, it could be said
that when zoning laws are too vague, it actually discourages people moving
into an area because they can't be sure they'll get a permit. That
decreases economic activity in the area, which is the opposite of what
zoning laws are supposed to achieve.