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Anderson v. City of Issaquah - 70 Wash. App. 64, 851 P.2d 744 (1993)

Rule:

An enactment regulating business activities generally is unconstitutionally vague if technical terms used in the enactment are not commonly understood within the affected industry and other words used do not have a well-settled common law meaning.

Facts:

Plaintiffs M. Bruce Anderson and affiliated others (collectively, "Anderson"), owned certain real property that he wanted to develop by building a 6,800-square-foot commercial building for several retail tenants. The property was zoned for general commercial use. Anderson applied to the City of Issaquah ("City") for a land use certification. Ultimately, the Issaquah Development Commission ("Commission"), which was created to administer and enforce the City's land use regulations, denied the application. It found that the proposed building did not meet the design requirements contained in Issaquah Municipal Code (IMC) 16.16.060. As interpreted by the Commission, that code required, inter alia, that new buildings "fit with the concept of the surrounding area." On Anderson's appeal, the City council affirmed the Commission's decision. Anderson subsequently filed a lawsuit against the City in Washington superior court, arguing that the design requirements in IMC 16.16.060 were unconstitutionally vague. The superior court rendered judgment for the City. Anderson appealed. The City filed a cross-appeal, challenging the superior court's judgment in granting Anderson summary dismissal of the City's affirmative defenses. 

Issue:

Were the building design provisions of IMC 16.16.060 unconstitutionally vague?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the superior court's judgment and ordered that Anderson's land use certification be issued. The court held that IMC 16.16.060 did not give effective or meaningful guidance to applicants, design professionals, or to the public officials who were responsible for enforcing the code. Whenever a community adopted aesthetic standards for land use, they could and must be drafted to give clear guidance to all parties concerned, the court ruled. The court also ruled against the City on its cross-appeal, finding that the City had waived any affirmative defense with respect to the timeliness of Anderson's original complaint, and the City's claim that an indispensable party was not named as a plaintiff was frivolous.

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