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Impact Fee Court Decisions

This page highlights key court decisions affecting city and county impact fee programs in Washington State.

For an overview of impact fees in general, see our page on Impact Fees.

Impact Fees Generally

City ordinance allowed landowner to offset a portion of a park impact fee through mitigation.​​

Belleau Woods II, LLC v. City of Bellingham, 150 Wn. App. 228 (2009), review denied, 167 Wn.2d 1014 (2012) - The city imposed its park impact fee requirement against a developer who had already contributed land for a neighborhood trail. The developer challenged the fee based on the prior dedication of land. The court held that, under a city ordinance as well as state law (RCW 82.02.060(4)), the city must give a developer credit against an impact fee for a previous dedication of property required as a condition of approval. But the court interpreted the ordinance to entitle a developer to a full exemption only if the agreed-to contribution of land is equivalent to the impact fees that would be assessed. The court also noted that prior decisions had established that impact fees are not subject to vesting under state law.

Imposition of impact fees as a building permit condition is a land use decision subject to LUPA.

James v. Kitsap County, 154 Wn.2d 574 (2005) - The imposition of impact fees as a condition of building permit issuance is a "land use decision" subject to the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), and thus must be challenged within 21 days.

City could impose impact fees on development even though impact fee ordinance not adopted until after preliminary plat approval.

Pavlina v. City of Vancouver, 122 Wn. App. 520 (2004) - Assessment of development impact fees. Even though preliminary plat approval occurred before an impact fee ordinance was adopted, the fees could be imposed when the developer applied for a building permit. Impact fees are not an additional condition of approval. That the developer’s plan previously received preliminary approval does not preclude imposition of impact fees when a building permit is sought.

City lacks statutory authority to impose impact fees outside its borders.

Nolte v. City of Olympia, 96 Wn. App. 944 (1999) - A city may not impose impact fees on projects outside of its borders. The court held that a utility extension agreement (UEA) based on the landowner's promise to pay impact fees was not enforceable.

Transportation Impact Fees

City imposition of transportation impact fees was an appropriate legislative exaction and was not excessive.

Douglass Properties II, LLC v. City of Olympia (2021) – Douglass applied for building permits to construct a mini-storage facility in the City of Olympia (City).  The City determined that transportation impact fees in the amount of $167,580 were due based on the City’s rate schedule. Douglass had the option of requesting an independent fee analysis from the City. Douglass could also have performed its own independent fee calculation, but it declined to pursue either option.  Instead, Douglass argued to the Hearing Examiner that the City had incorrectly calculated the number of trips per peak hour, the percentage of new trips, and a trip adjustment variable.

The City’s impact fee calculation was upheld by the hearing examiner, the trial court, and the Washington Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals clarified that the nexus and “rough proportionality” requirements, as described in the United States Supreme Court cases of Nollan and Dolan, apply only to certain types of adjudicative and ad hoc monetary exactions. The nexus and rough proportionality requirements do not apply to more broadly applicable legislative exactions, such as impact fees imposed pursuant to RCW 82.02.050 et. seq. The court therefore upheld the City’s calculation of impact fees and awarded the City its reasonable attorney fees pursuant to RCW 4.84.370(1).

Impact fees may be calculated based on development’s impact to service area’s improvements as a whole, rather than particular system improvements.

City of Olympia v. Drebick, 156 Wn.2d 289 (2006) - Calculation of impact fees under GMA. The state supreme court upheld the city's calculation of transportation impact fees imposed under GMA, reversing a decision by the court of appeals (119 Wn. App. 774 (2004)). The GMA impact fee statutes permit local governments to base impact fees on area-wide infrastructure improvements reasonably related and beneficial to the particular development seeking approval. This standard is broader than the standard under SEPA or the Local Transportation Act. The city was not required to calculate the impact fee by making individualized assessments of the Drebick development's direct impact on each improvement planned in a service area. The city's method of calculating transportation impact fees complied with the plain language of the GMA impact fee statutes.

City’s transportation impact fee ordinance is not subject to vesting for subdivision applications.

New Castle Invs. v. City of LaCenter, 98 Wn. App. 224 (1999) - A city's transportation impact fee ordinance is not subject to the vesting statute for subdivision applications, RCW 58.17.033, because transportation impact fees do not fall within the definition of "land use control ordinances" under that statute. Consequently, the city's impact fee can be applied to a proposed development even though the application for preliminary plat approval was completed prior to the effective date for the city's ordinance.

School Impact Fees

Jurisdictions within a single school district may impose school impact fees of different amounts.

Wellington River Hollow v. King County, 113 Wn. App. 574 (2002) - It is not unconstitutional for jurisdictions within a school district to have discretion to impose school impact fees on new developments, even though the amount of fees for comparable units will differ from one jurisdiction to another within the same school district.

Developer could not use plat revision process to seek removal of SEPA condition requiring payment of school impact fees.

West Coast, Inc. v. Snohomish County, 104 Wn. App. 735 (2000) - Preliminary Plats/Modification/Impact Fees. A condition of preliminary plat approval, in this case school impact fees, is tantamount to a contractual obligation that is binding on the applicant absent extraordinary circumstances justifying a failure to perform.

Growth Management Hearings Board

Impact fees are generally outside the jurisdiction of the Growth Management Hearings Board, although there are a few cases that tangentially touch upon this topic. To find these cases, use their Case and Decision Search or see the Digest of Decisions.

Last Modified: February 23, 2024