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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: City prevails in challenge to fees for affordable housing

10/21/2014  3:40:00 PM
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602

A judge has tossed out a federal challenge to a City ordinance that increased the fees for affordable housing that developers can pay to obtain “bonus” square footage in projects rather than provide the affordable housing.

Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart sends the case, Koontz Coalition v. City of Seattle, to King County Superior Court for resolution of state claims.

“As the fastest growing city in the nation that is simultaneously exporting its poor people, Seattle can no longer ignore the problem of increasing, and unmet, demand for affordable housing,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said Tuesday. “I call on developers to work with city government to address this problem in a collaborative fashion rather than through litigation. Our office will continue to support our policy makers as we grapple with this problem.”

"And," Holmes added, “I’m immensely proud of our litigators who have enjoyed back-to-back federal court victories this week,” referring to the dismissal of the lawsuit against the new use-of-force policy filed by a hundred Seattle police officers.

In Seattle’s downtown area, developers can obtain “bonus” square footage by either providing a certain amount of affordable housing or paying a fee (called a “fee-in-lieu”). In December, 2013, the City Council adopted an ordinance that increased the downtown “fees-in-lieu.” The increased fees were commensurate with those adopted for South Lake Union as part of the 2013 upzone of that area.

A few downtown property owners, styling themselves the “Koontz Coalition” (after the U.S. Supreme Court case of the same name), challenged the December ordinance. The coalition raised a variety of claims under federal and state law, first and foremost alleging that the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District.

The City removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss it. On Monday Robart dismissed the federal claims as unripe while remanding the state law claims to superior court.

Judge Robart's Decision [pdf]

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