Washington Law Review


The Washington State Supreme Court struck down the temporary shoreline development moratorium at issue in Biggers v. City of Bainbridge Island, 162 Wash. 2d 683, 169 P.3d 14 (2007); yet the court fragmented on the broader question of whether a local government has authority to adopt a moratorium on shoreline development during long-term land-use planning. In light of upcoming deadlines for the state’s local governments to revise their shoreline-management plans, constraints on local authority to adopt shoreline moratoria during the planning process take on heightened importance for hundreds of local governments. The question highlights the tension between private property rights and government authority to regulate for the public welfare. This Note argues that, when presented with a reasonable moratorium, Washington courts should deem persuasive the agreement of the Biggers’ concurrence and dissent, which form a majority in favor of the legality of reasonable moratoria. Biggers provides binding legal precedent pursuant to the narrowest-grounds rule for interpreting plurality decisions, holding only that an unreasonable shoreline moratorium contravenes Washington law. Courts that adopt this position will remain in harmony with the state’s long history of broad local police powers while continuing the traditional requirement that land-use ordinances be reasonable. Public policy, particularly environmental imperatives, also favors upholding the reasonable shoreline moratorium. This Note proposes substantive and procedural factors, applicable in future cases, that likely fulfill the reasonableness requirement in Biggers.

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