Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Grace Christ and Katy Isaksen some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Letter to Editor: Vesting works with laws' intent

Critics ignore that the Growth Management Act and other major state land-use law are designed to balance economic development with other interests.


Vested rights in Washington state have recently sparked debate around their impact on development. Vested rights impact homebuilders and home buyers alike, and smart policy on this issue is important from both an economic and environmental perspective.

Our economy and environment are both critical to the quality of life we enjoy in Washington, and a balanced perspective on vested rights should consider both factors. The laws that regulate development deserve to be explained in a fair and clear manner. Vesting has been characterized as an unfair way for home developers to avoid regulation. In fact, vested rights merely provide a developer the right to have an application considered under current rules and regulations, no more, no less.

To be sure, vested rights are limited to protect the public interest. Vesting does not affect developers’ obligation to obey existing laws or to ignore Washington state environmental statutes such as the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Under SEPA, a local government can deny a vested land use application because of adverse environmental impacts. Vested rights may also be terminated by legislation enacted to protect public health, safety, and welfare.

Additionally, vested rights do not permanently protect developers from new rules and regulations. While vesting does protect homebuilders from post-application changes to development regulations, it does not freeze the law in time. All land use permits expire and at that point, developers’ vested rights expire as well.

Major state legislation that regulates land use, such as the Growth Management Act (GMA), is sometimes characterized as being in opposition to vesting. What vesting critics don’t mention is that the GMA is not solely dedicated to environmental protection goals, but also makes provision for economic development, property rights as well as public participation. The GMA reflects a balanced approach to land management and development in Washington that home developers also work to achieve.

In recent years, the costs, risks, complexity, and number of steps in the land development process have exploded. Land-use regulations are changing more often than ever before. The nature of modern real estate development requires significant financial investment in the early planning stages of projects. As a result, in order to build homes, developers need some assurance that they will be able to complete the projects they start. Vested rights provide the certainty and fairness necessary for developers to make such an investment of time and money. This assurance is especially important given the current state of the economy, and it is critical to achieving stability as the housing market recovers.

From an economic perspective, affordable housing is another important consideration when discussing vested rights. If vesting provisions are stripped, uncertainty and added regulatory burdens will raise the cost of developing new communities, and those costs will be passed on to homebuyers and tenants. Economic growth is jeopardized when Washington’s workers face increased housing costs. In our weakened economic state, the last thing Washington families need are higher costs of living.

Most people agree that working to protect the environment and grow our economy is the right thing to do. Sensible housing development helps achieve both these goals, and vesting plays an important role in this process. Today’s homebuilders are more dedicated to the protection of the environment than they have ever been before. Homes and developments are designed to be sustainable, conserving our resources and landscape. Developers are also leaders in creating jobs that provide employment and fuel our economy.

With strong economic incentives and safeguards for property rights, the homebuilding industry will have the opportunity to prosper again.  Strong homebuilding businesses mean more jobs and innovation in Washington. Housing development’s land use planners continue to generate creative solutions that protect the surrounding environment.

In any debate on important policy, the fair use of facts should matter. Criticism that characterizes home developers as disregarding the environment or flouting the law does not have the facts on its side. Vested rights are established Washington law that rightfully provide the housing industry with assurance that developments don’t die on the vine. Overarching state land use legislation, such the GMA, also reflects this common-sense approach. A thoughtful review of vested rights recognizes that such a regime creates a good balance between the needs of Washington residents, local governments, developers, and the environment itself.

Sam Anderson is executive officer of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. He also serves as a business community representative on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

We know what the large Merchant Plat Developers, and the Master Builders Association position is and they all reside on the same side of the facts as they see them. Vesting loopholes have been exploited all over Washington State, and we hear the MBA and the large developer clearly as they fear monger and hold the prospects of job and good economic times as an entitlement, for them. Unfortunately, the tax-payers don't share in that prosperity as these large scale developments force the cost onto the taxpayers and the impacts to the environment are irrevocable. MBA and the large developer wishes us to have "faith" that they will do the right thing, and the difference between a 20% profit margin and a 40% profit margin has no bearing on the their desire to do the right thing. I guess we can respectfully disagree on the correct version of the facts. Regrettably, those with the power of the press and lobbyist will be heard the loudest.

mvcitizen

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 4:40 p.m. Inappropriate

There is vesting and then there is VESTING. I have no argument with a developer being vested in development regulations when he applies for a building permit. But how can Mr. Anderson defend vesting the Yarrow Bay Master Planned Developments in development regulations for over 6,000 apartments and houses plus over a million square feet of commercial development for fifteen years? Especially when Yarrow Bay has provided the overpaid City employees to rewrite the regulations and push the process through the City Council. And how does Mr. Anderson justify transferring the vested rights to other developers - a process called "land flipping"? Let's face it. Yarrow Bay isn't interested in protecting their right to develop the land in a responsible way. Their interest is in increasing the value of the land by acquiring vested rights and then selling the land along with those rights. Would the Master Builders support a law that vests only the applicant and does not provide for assignment or sale of those rights?

ibskeptic

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Anderson,

Thanks for confirming my understanding that “vested rights are limited to protect the public interest.” And, specifically, that “vested rights may be terminated by legislation enacted to protect public health, safety, and welfare.”

I can only assume your intent in making these claims is to assure the public that members of your organization – Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties – would never assert that their vested rights trump a municipality’s police power to protect the public from harm.

I wonder if we can examine a particular situation so you can comfort those of us who may skeptical that your heart is really in the right place. Would you agree that an ordinance specifically adopted to “protect the public and public resources and facilities from injury, loss of life, property damage or financial loss” might qualify as “legislation enacted to protect public health, safety, and welfare?”

Would members of your organization claim that their “vested” applications can legally circumvent such a law?

As you must know, most Washington State residents are skeptical of your claim that “today’s homebuilders are more dedicated to the protection of the environment than they have ever been before.” Honestly, considering the hoops developers will jump through to avoid environmental regulations, can you blame us for being cynical?

Returning to our example, if you are not already aware, the language cited above comes from the “King County Model Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) for the Snoqualmie Watershed Cities,” including Duvall, Carnation, Snoqualmie, and North Bend. This model code was produced by the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum with assistance from Adolfson Associates in July 2004. I have provided a link to this Model CAO below.

Based on your letter - and your claims that “vested rights are limited to protect the public interest” and “may be terminated by legislation enacted to protect public health, safety and welfare” - I wonder where you stand now?

Is the “Snoqualmie Model CAO” an ordinance enacted to protect public health, safety, and welfare?

Does the Snoqualmie Model CAO terminate vested rights?

Or, would members of your organization assert that their “vested” projects are not subject to the Snoqualmie Model CAO?

It’s one thing to write a letter to the editor telling us how dedicated homebuilders are to the protection of the environment – not to mention public safety. It’s another thing to walk your talk.

As former Attorney General John Mitchell advised, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

So you’ll know, we’re watching. What will you and your members do?

PS – Here’s a link to the “King County, Model Ordinance for Snoqualmie Watershed Cities” on the Dept of Commerce’s website. The ordinance referenced is the ninth one listed. The relevant code section is 20.05.111.B.

http://www.commerce.wa.gov/portal/alias__CTED/lang__en/tabID__746/DesktopDefault.aspx

Lucky7

Posted Sun, Jan 30, 3:33 p.m. Inappropriate

"It should be pointed out that McClure in his long career at the P-I never let actual facts get in the way of his biased "advocacy journalism."

Let's see...Robert McClure writes an article regarding vesting laws in WA, and that mentions multiple developments in WA State that have or had vesting concerns;and immediately the President of Yarrow Bay and the Executive Officer of MBA fire back letters to the editors regarding and defending their business model and project. They immediately call into question the reporters facts. Then their supporters attack the messager as an environmental advocate who is biased.

I like Lucky7's commet: As former Attorney General John Mitchell advised, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

"Me thinks thou dost protest too much!"

troubled

Posted Mon, Feb 7, 10:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Anderson,

Just following up on the questions I posed in my earlier comment. I’ll repeat them here:

1) Is the “Snoqualmie Model CAO” an ordinance enacted to protect public health, safety, and welfare?

2) Does the Snoqualmie Model CAO terminate vested rights?

3) Or, would members of your organization assert that their “vested” projects are not subject to the Snoqualmie Model CAO?
Your response would be greatly appreciated.

Lucky7

Posted Sat, Feb 19, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Well Mr. Anderson, sometimes silence is more powerful than words. Clearly you cannot be troubled to respond to comments on your own letter to the editor, especially when your response would belie the claims of your letter.

It’s a shame that Crosscut’s editors publish letters from those who refuse to respond to comments.

No matter, I believe your silence has provided the answer I expected.

Lucky7

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »