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Anderson v. City of Issaquah

    Brief Fact Summary. The Issaquah Development Commission (the Commission) of the City of Issaquah (Appellee) had the authority to approve or deny land use certifications. The Appellants, Anderson and others (Appellants) submitted architectural plans for approval. The Commission’s decision was guided by the Appellee’s Muncipal Code criteria which included objectives such as harmony, avoidance of monotony and minimal accent with bright colors.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Enforcement of vague standards like harmony, interest, depth and avoidance of monotony gave no meaningful guidance and constituted a deprivation of due process in the land use certification process.

    Facts. The plan for Anderson’s (Appellant’s) building consisted of an off-white stucco face, a blue roof, a modern style, a warehouse appearance in the rear and large retail windows on the side. The Issaquah (Appellee) Municipal Code contained various “building design objectives” that would guide the town Commission’s assessment of architectural plans. The objectives included requirements for compatible styles, harmony in texture, lines and masses, appropriate proportions, harmonious additions and avoidance of monotony. The Commission denied certification finding that Anderson’s façade did not fit with the concept of the surrounding area or the image of the Appellee town, Issaquah (Appellee). Some commissioners recommended a redesign and others suggested “more depth.” Anderson tried over the course of four meetings of the Commission to make several additions that he thought would respond to the Commissioners concerns. In applying the design guidelines, the Commissioners made statements alluding to “the feeling of the street” and others offered personal opinions on the design requirements

    Issue. Were the building design objectives contained in the City of Issaquah’s (Appellee’s) municipal code unconstitutional for vagueness in violation of due process? More particularly, were the building design objectives so vague or unclear that ordinary citizens would have to guess as to their meaning and would differ in how to apply these design objectives in violation of due process?

    Held. The objectives were unconstitutional. Nothing in the objectives predicted whether the Commission would find the building interesting, monotonous or harmonious or in harmony. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found the vague code sections which gave no meaningful guidance to the Commission to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court had not foreclosed the ability of city to control designs based on aesthetic values, however, the vague standards which amounted to review by the Commission on an ad hoc basis were a deprivation of due process.

    Discussion. The Supreme Court felt aesthetic considerations were not impossible to define, but that these were vague and the procedural safeguards contained were not enough to remedy the constitutional problem of vagueness.


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