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August 6, 1970
Municipal Research Council
4719 Brooklyn Avenue N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105
Attention: Dr. Ernest H. Campbell
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 107
Thank you for your recent letter in response to ours of April 9, 1970, pertaining to your earlier request for our opinion as to the legal ownership status of a certain tract of land in King County, known as the Highland Community Park.
From your letter, it appears that this tract of land was acquired by King County, on a parcel by parcel basis, over a period of years commencing in about 1938 and concluding with an acquisition occurring in 1964. Since this acquisition, the tract (and subsequent additions thereto) has been utilized by King County as a county park ‑ although you have not indicated the specific statutory provisions under which this operation has occurred.1/ At the time of this acquisition, and until quite recently, the entire tract was located outside the territory of any incorporated city or town located within King County; however, as a consequence of a recent annexation of unincorporated territory to the city of Bellevue, the tract in question is now located entirely within the limits of this city.
As we further understand it, it is being contended by one of the members of the City Council of the city of Bellevue, who is an attorney, that the title to the tract should be regarded as having passed to the city as a consequence of its annexation ‑ and he has prepared a legal memorandum designed to support this contention. However, our reading of the several decisions of the Washington Supreme Court which are cited and discussed in this memorandum leads us to conclude that none of these cases have any bearing [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] upon the question presented. Simply stated, none of these cases involved the consequence of a municipal annexation upon the ownership of county property (whether governmental or proprietary) located within the area of the annexation.
As we indicated to you in our earlier letter, the general rule on this point is that, in the absence of a specific statute to the contrary,
". . . The mere change of boundary lines [as a result of the annexation of unincorporated territory to a city] does not extinguish debts nor affect the title to property owned by the municipality at the date of the change, . . ." (2 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, § 7.47)
Furthermore, our examination of the statutes pertaining to municipal annexation (as contained in chapter 35.13 RCW) reveals no provision covering the subject ownership of county park property ‑ as distinguished (for example) from the property of water, sewer or fire protection districts as provided for in RCW 35.13.220, et seq.
Therefore, we are constrained to express our disagreement with the position which has been urged in the above noted legal memorandum. It would be our opinion, instead, on the basis of the facts as we understand them, that legal ownership of the Highland Community Park tract remains in King County ‑ and is subject to disposition by the county in the manner provided for in the particular statutes under which the county has been operating this park facility.2/
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, e.g., chapters 36.68 and 36.69 RCW.
2/We note, however, in response to one of the questions which we posed to you in our letter of April 9, 1970, above noted, that you have indicated you are unable to assure us that our opinion will satisfactorily resolve the conflict as to ownership which presently exists between the city of Bellevue and King County with regard to the subject tract ‑ and, of course, we would by no means, in any event, assert that an advisory opinion of this office should be regarded as binding on any of the parties to the controversy which we have been asked to review. Obviously, if the city of Bellevue desires to test the validity of its councilman's contentions, it would appear to us relatively simple for the city to place the matter before the court by means of a quiet title action against King County.