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Renovate Your House, Pay For Street Improvements.

Linda Cameron is a 70 year old woman living in the town of Richland, Washington. In 1977, Linda and her husband Gary purchased a modest home of less than 1200 square feet. The home has one bedroom, one bath, a kitchen, a living room,and two smaller rooms. In 2012, Gary passed away due to cancer. In 2018, Linda decided that she would use some of the money from her husband’s insurance policy to do what the couple had planned on doing – renovating the home.

The home, valued at $136,980 has obvious sentimental value to Linda, and besides, she likes the neighborhood and her neighbors. Therefore, moving was an option she considered, but ultimately rejected.

The renovation would include the tearing down of a enclosed porch and a carport and building an addition which would have a second bedroom, a second bathroom, a living area, and a garage.

Linda contacted a company by the name of AJ Construction and Development, LLC to do the design work and the construction. The costs of the renovation would be approximately $143,000 plus an additional $12,000 in taxes.

With the design approved by Linda, the builders sought the necessary permits to do the renovation.

The City of Richland denied the application unless Linda paid to upgrade the city street in front of her property – an expense that would cost an estimated additional $60,000.

The Institute for Justice has taken Linda’s case and is suing the City of Richland.

According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Linda and a letter sent to her by the City Manager, the City was denying the application based on the Richland City Code:

Richland Municipal Code §12.10.020 provides:
Whenever a building permit application is made for alterations or repairs to a residential or commercial property within the city, the person seeking such a permit shall install improvements as required in RMC 12.10.010; except that the requirements for installation of such
improvements shall be waived if one of the following
criteria is met:

A. The total alterations or repairs to a residential property are less than $50,000 in valuation within any two-year period . . . .

We are a little confused here as the online version of the Richland Code states:

Richland Municipal Code §12.10.020 Street improvements for existing improved property.

Whenever a building permit application is made for alterations or repairs to an existing building or structure on residential or commercial property within the city, the person seeking such a permit shall install improvements as required in RMC 12.10.010, except that the requirements for installation of such improvements shall be waived if one of the following criteria is met:

A. The total alterations or repairs to an existing residential building or structure are less than 50 percent of the assessed valuation as determined by the Benton County assessor;

As a practical matter, the Code would apply as the renovation costs are above $50,000 and above 50 percent of the assessed value of the house. Whatever the code says, it is going to apply here.

According to the Code, the extent of the “improvements” are fairly extensive:

12.10.010 Street improvements for new construction.

A. Whenever a building permit application is made for construction of a new residential or commercial structure within the city, the person seeking such permit shall also make application for a permit as provided for under this chapter, and as a portion of such construction there shall be built street improvements on all sides of such property that may adjoin property dedicated as a public street right-of-way, in conformance herewith, and such street improvements shall extend the full distance that such property is sought to be occupied as a building site for residential or commercial construction, or as parking area for commercial construction, that may adjoin property dedicated as a public street right-of-way. “Street improvements” shall include all elements needed to complete the street in conformance with city standards, including but not limited to grading of land, subgrade preparation, crushed rock base, asphalt paving, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, storm drainage, and street light improvements.

(Because the renovation costs exceed the threshold for costs of $50,000 or 50% of the assessed value, the City considers this to be new construction.)

To put it succinctly, Richland is nuts and for many reasons:

1) As the IJ notes in the complaint, Linda’s house renovation is not going to have any effect on traffic traveling Fowler Street (in red below on satellite image.) The City of Richland has this part of their code to offset the impact construction or renovations have on a street. Linda is not putting up condos, or apartments or a business. There is no impact, so how can she be charged impact fees?

As the complaint states:

34. Linda’s planned renovation does not adversely affect public health, safety, the environment, or any other issue the government has a legitimate interest in.
35. Linda’s planned renovation does not change the use of her property. Her single-family home will remain a single-family home.
36. Linda’s planned renovation will not result in any additional traffic on Fowler Street.
37. If Fowler Street is suffering from some deficiency, that deficiency preexists Linda’s planned home renovation and has nothing to do with Linda’s planned renovation.
38. The City’s demand that Linda pay to renovate the City’s streets has nothing to do with any impact of Linda’s planned renovation. The City simply wants Linda to pay because the City does not want to pay.

2) This is a sweet deal for the people to the southwest of Linda’s property. They get a “better,” “prettier” road with sidewalks and lights and don’t have to open their wallets to do so.
3) This is not a “special assessment” which divides the cost of a project and spreads that cost out amongst the people whose property values increase because of the project. If the City wants to do a special assessment, the people to the southwest are going to have to pay the piper as well.
4) While the IJ’s brief cites a estimate of $60,000 to do what the city wants, we believe that estimate may be low especially if the City wants street lights. The $60,000 may barely cover getting power to the street and the erection of the lamps themselves. Once a City like Richland has their hand in your open pocketbook, they are not going to let go of any money they can grab easily.

Here’s a woman who has lived in the same home on the same property for 42 years and wants to fulfill a dream she and her departed husband had for their home.

Her dream of a larger, more functional home impacts no one other than herself and that impact is not felt outside of the her property lines.

As long as no one is harmed, people should be able to do what they want with their own property.

Period.

We are hoping that the Institute for Justice wins this case and we get to see pictures of a beaming Linda Cameron standing in front of her newly renovated home.



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