In my land use legal practice here in Whatcom County, it is rare that alternative dispute resolution is utilized at the local level. The last couple of land use legal seminars that I’ve attended included lecture on mediation as a cost effective approach for settlement of land use disputes. As with any legal dispute, mediation can be frustrating and ultimately a waste of time depending upon your opposition. However, I’ve learned that there are examples of local land use disputes where mediation was successfully employed. In those cases, the parties understood their ultimate goals from the outset and were willing participants.
Land use practitioners should at least consider whether mediation is an appropriate method of resolution of land use disputes at the local level. One way to promote the use of mediation is if local jurisdictions either provide mediation services or encourage mediation. While most local jurisdictions within Whatcom County will try and work with applicants during the land use permit application review process, I am not aware of any jurisdictions within Whatcom County which offer or encourage mediation for resolution of land use issues or disputes. If Whatcom County or other local governments wish to reduce the number of appeals filed each year, adoption of an ordinance which encourages mediation may be useful.
There are examples which may be helpful to review if and when jurisdictions within Whatcom County decide to adopt such an ordinance. In the latest seminar I attended there was a lecture entitled, “Using Mediation Throughout the Land Use Process”, May 2012, the faculty and audience mentioned a few jurisdictions which either provide mediation services or encourage mediation. I found that the City of Bellevue offers free, voluntary and confidential mediation for dealing with neighborhood conflict within the City of Bellevue. Kitsap County adopted an ordinance which encourages parties to land use disputes or appeals to mediate. The ordinance incorporates mediation into the process for permit application review and appeals of permits and allows “pre-decision” and “post decision” mediation. Kitsap County also pays the costs of mediation including staff time if it is conducted through the dispute resolution center of Kitsap County. While not as detailed as Kitsap County’s ordinance, the City of Bainbridge Island also adopted an ordinance which encourages the use of mediation.
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
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