Resolving land use disputes in the State of Washington can be a lengthy and tedious process. A land development project often require a variety of different permits and approvals from numerous local, state, and federal agencies and authorities. To obtain each of these permits, you must first file an application, which can take more than a year to be approved on tricky projects.
Land use entitlements are a fertile ground for legal disputes. When disputes do arise, there are a number of avenues for resolving them. Generally, the first avenue to consider is negotiating with planning staff. Taking the matter before a hearing examiner is often the next step. From there, appeals for land use matters generally go before the Washington State Superior Court and then on up the ladder.
However, many land use matters are not worth the cost of litigation. And even if they are, it is always nice to save money. It is usually more efficient—not to mention far less costly—to try to resolve land use disputes outside of court. As any good lawyer will tell you, litigation is expensive, prolonged, and uncertain.
Oftentimes, careful negotiation can yield great results. However, there are times when something more is necessary. That’s where mediation comes in.
Using Mediation to Resolve a Land Use Dispute
The first thing to understand about mediation is that it is voluntary. Nobody can compel you to take part in the mediation process (unless you signed a contract stating otherwise) and the results are non-binding unless the parties mutually agree otherwise.
Mediation is essentially a facilitated negotiation. During mediation, the parties involved in a land use dispute (and often their attorneys) have the opportunity to meet with the mediator, who is a neutral third party with no financial or personal interest in the outcome of the matter. The mediator’s job is to help the parties resolve their pending dispute by facilitating discussion, negotiation, and ultimately helping the parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution to their dispute if possible. The mediator may also encourage settlement by honestly discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the respective parties’ cases with them, helping them to identify the best and worst-case scenarios should the case go to court. Finally, the mediator may encourage the parties to settle by providing the parties with a realistic idea of what litigation costs could be if the case does go to trial. The greater the projected litigation costs, the less likely it is that litigation is worth it.
The Washington Uniform Mediation Act (UMA) usually governs the mediation process in Washington State. Pursuant to the UMA, all communications made during a mediation session are confidential to the extent agreed upon by the parties involved in the mediation. Also, generally speaking, communications made by any of the parties during a mediation session are not admissible in court or subject to written or oral discovery in a pending court case.
Common Benefits of Land Use Mediation
The benefits of mediation in a land use dispute include:
- The parties to the land use dispute are able to obtain a better understanding of all of the pending issues in their case. A good mediator can help to break down the communication barriers and facilitate an intelligent discussion between the parties about the issues in dispute.
- Mediation oftentimes allows the parties to reduce (and in some cases eliminate) the total number of land use issues in dispute during the mediation. In some cases, the parties to the dispute may only choose to mediate the most serious and contentious of the issues raised and may resolve any less-significant issues outside of the mediation session.
- Mediation can reduce development delays by expediting a resolution. Unfortunately, the land use entitlement process is both time-consuming and tedious, and resolving land use disputes—along with any appeals—can take many years. These delays can result in significant costs, including consultant fees and lost opportunities. The mediation process affords developers the opportunity to reduce their costs significantly and increase their level of certainty about a particular development project.
- Land use mediation allows for resolution of disputed factual issues via individual or shared experts. Solutions to land use disputes may involve extremely technical matters that require expert advice. The mediation process affords the parties the ability to speak with these experts both during or between mediation sessions.
Contact a Tacoma Property and Real Estate Lawyer Today for a Legal Consultation
While not every land use dispute can be resolved via the mediation process, mediation is often a valuable intermediate step. The knowledgeable property and real estate lawyers at the Brink Law Firm can examine the facts and circumstances surrounding your land use dispute and help you explore all of your legal options for dispute resolution—including land use mediation. To schedule a consultation or case evaluation, call us at 253.620.6666 or contact us online.