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AGO 1987 No. 8 - March 16, 1987
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

PLATTING & SUBDIVISIONS ‑- REAL ESTATE ‑- DENIAL OF SHORT PLAT APPLICATION ‑- FORUM FOR APPEAL 

King County is not required to allow an appeal to the county council of an administrative decision denying a short plat application. 

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                  March 16, 1987 

Honorable John W. Betrozoff
State Representative, 45th District
325 House Office Building
Olympia, Washington 98504 

Cite as:  AGO 1987 No. 8                                                                                                                  

 Dear Sir:

             By recent letter you have requested our opinion on a question that we paraphrase as follows:

             Is King County required to allow an appeal to the county council of an administrative decision denying a short plat application?

             We answer this question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             The statutory scheme with regard to plats and subdivisions is set forth in chapter 58.17 RCW.  Before turning to the substantive provisions of the chapter that relate to your question, the following definitions from RCW 58.17.020 are to be noted:

                         (1) "Subdivision" is the division or redivision of land into five or more lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale, lease, or transfer of ownership, except as provided in subsection (6) of this section.

                         (2) "Plat" is a map or representation of a subdivision, showing thereon the division of a tract or parcel of land into lots, blocks, streets and alleys or other divisions and dedications.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                       . . .

                         (6) "Short subdivision" is the division or redivision of land into four or fewer lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale, lease, or transfer of ownership:  Provided, That the legislative authority of any city or town may by local ordinance increase the number of lots, tracts, or parcels to be regulated as short subdivisions to a maximum of nine.

                        . . .

                         (8) "Short plat" is the map or representation of a short subdivision.

                        . . .

             Turning to the substantive provisions that apply to your question, we note first RCW 58.17.330 which provides in part:

                         As an alternative to those provisions of this chapter requiring a planning commission to hear and issue recommendations for plat approval, the county or city legislative body may adopt a hearing examiner system and shall specify by ordinance the legal effect of the decisions made by the examiner.  The legal effect of such decisions shall include one of the following:

                         (1) The decision may be given the effect of a recommendation to the legislative body;

                         (2) The decision may be given the effect of an administrative decision appealable within a specified time limit to the legislative body.

                        . . .1/

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            King County has adopted a hearing examiner system.  See King County Code 20.24.  Pursuant to this system, certain decisions of the hearing examiner have the effect of a recommendation to the county council.  See King County Code 20.24.070.  Certain other decisions, including appeals from the decisions of the administrator for short subdivisions, have the effect of final decisions.  See King County Code 20.24.080.2/

             Decisions of the hearing examiner pursuant to section 20.24.080 are not appealable to the county council.  Instead, they are appealable within certain time limits only to the King County Superior Court.  See King County Code 20.24.240.3/

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

                                     The basic issue raised by your question, then, is whether the provision of King County's hearing examiner system that required decisions of the examiner with regard to the approval of short subdivisions to be appealed to Superior Court conflicts with the requirement of RCW 58.17.330 that decisions of an examiner with regard to plat approval be given the effect of either a recommendation to the legislative body or an administrative decision appealable to the legislative body.  In our opinion, this provision of the King County hearing examiner system does not conflict with RCW 58.17.330 because the requirements of RCW 58.17.330 do not apply to short plats or short subdivisions.4/

             First, RCW 58.17.030 exempts short plats and short subdivisions from the requirements of chapter 58.17.  RCW 58.17.030 provides:

                         Every subdivision shall comply with the provisions of this chapter.  Every short subdivision as defined in this chapter shall comply with the provisions of any local regulation adopted pursuant to RCW 58.17.060.

 RCW 58.17.060, in turn, provides in part:

             The legislative body of a city, town, or county shall adopt regulations and procedures, and appoint administrative personnel for the summary approval of  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] short plats and short subdivisions, or revision thereof.  Such regulations shall be adopted by ordinance and may contain wholly different requirements than those governing the approval of preliminary and final plats of subdivisions . . . .

             The requirements of chapter 58.17 RCW are thus inapplicable to short plats and short subdivisions.5/

             Instead, the Legislature has left the regulation of short plats and short subdivisions entirely to the discretion of the local legislative bodies.  The local bodies are required to adopt their own regulations and procedures but these regulations may contain requirements that are "wholly different" from the requirements of chapter 58.17 RCW concerning plats and subdivisions.  Thus, King County is free, pursuant to RCW 58.17.060, to provide for a legal effect of the decision of the hearing examiner with regard to approval of a short plat or short subdivision that is wholly different from the requirements of RCW 58.17.330.6/

             Second, if the Legislature intended for the provisions and requirements of RCW 58.17.330 to apply to short plats and short subdivisions, it could have expressly so provided.  For example, the requirement in RCW 58.17.195 that no plat may be approved  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] unless the city, town, or county makes a written finding that the proposed subdivision is in conformity with any applicable zoning ordinance or other land use controls is expressly made applicable to short plats and short subdivisions.  See supra note 5.  Thus, the Legislature clearly knew how to make a provision in chapter 58.17 RCW applicable to short plats and short subdivisions but chose not to do so with regard to the requirements of RCW 58.17.330.

             For the reasons set forth above, it is our opinion that the exemption contained in RCW 58.17.030 and the broad grant of authority given to local governments by RCW 58.17.060 with regard to short plats and short subdivisions serves to exclude short plats and short subdivisions from the requirements of RCW 58.17.330.

             We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

MARK S. GREEN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                        ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/The provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW requiring a planning commission to hear and issue recommendations for plat approval include RCW 58.17.100, which provides in part:

                         If a city, town or county has established a planning commission or planning agency in accordance with state law or local charter, such commission or agency shall review all preliminary plats and make recommendations thereon to the city, town or county legislative body to assure conformance of the proposed subdivision to the general purposes of the comprehensive plan and to planning standards and specifications as adopted by the city, town or county. . . .

                        . . .

                         Sole authority to approve final plats, and to adopt or amend platting ordinances shall reside in the legislative bodies.

 2/King County Code 20.24.080 provides in part:

                         A.  The examiner shall receive and examine available information, conduct public hearings andd [and] prepare records and reports thereof, and issue final decisions based upon findings and conclusions in the following cases:

                         1.  Appeals from the decisions of the administrator for short subdivisions;

                        . . .

 3/King County Code 20.24.240 provides in part:

            . . .

                         B. Decisions of the examiner in cases identified in Section 20.24.080 shall be a final and conclusive action unless within twenty calendar days from the date of issuance of the examiner's decision an aggrieved person applies for a writ of certiorari from the Superior Court in and for the county of King, state of Washington, for the purpose of review of the action taken; . . .

 4/King County has authorized its hearing examiner to issue final decisions in a number of situations other than appeals from the decision of the administrator for short subdivisions, including appeals from decisions of the zoning adjustor on conditional use permits and variances.  King County Code 20.24.080.  As with decisions regarding short subdivisions, the decisions of the hearing examiner regarding conditional use permits and variances are appealable only to the Superior Court.  King County Code 20.24.240(B).  We express no opinion on the propriety of King County's determination to make certain decisions of the hearing examiner other than decisions concerning short plat applications appealable only to the Superior Court.

 5/The only exception seems to be the requirement in RCW 58.17.195 that

                         "[n]o plator short plat may be approved unless the city,town, or county makes a formal written finding of fact that the proposed subdivision or proposed short subdivision is in conformity with any applicable zoning ordinance or other land use controls which may exist."  (Emphasis added.)

 By its terms, this requirement is specifically applicable to short plats and short subdivisions.

 6/This result is in accord with the result we reached in AGLO 1979 No. 29 (copy enclosed).  There we concluded on the basis of RCW 58.17.060 that a county could manifest its approval of a short plat containing dedications "in whatever manner is provided for by the particular county's short plat ordinance" notwithstanding that RCW 58.17.070 requires a preliminary plat of proposed subdivisions and dedications of land to be submitted to the county commissioners for approval.

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