Division 3 Implementation 23.88 Rules; Interpretation

20110709-115252.jpgWell, now I’m just dragging it out. There are there parts to Division 3, the last if the code. My plan is still to do some kind of wrap up and proposal for some changes big and small. But imagine my surprise when, almost at the end I find this in 23.88:

Interpretations Generally. A decision by the Director as to the meaning,
application or intent of any development regulation in Title 23, Land Use
Code, or in Chapter 25.09, Regulations for Environmentally Critical Areas,
as it relates to a specific property is known as an “interpretation.” An
interpretation may be requested in writing by any person or may be initiated
by the Director.

Hmmmm. I guess I could have just requested an interpretation of the entirety of Chapter 23 and saved myself the hassle of hacking my way through the whole code.

There are limits of course to the interpretation section.

A decision by the Director that an
issue is not subject to an interpretation request shall be final and not
subject to administrative appeal.

And if you want to read a fine example of an interpretation you can check out this one, which renders an interpretation about the siting of a social service facility in south Seattle. The interoperation calmly responds to a lot flak the department got by saying that planners don’t make “value judgements” about the project. This one must have been especially ugly if a paragraph was needed to assert and clarify the role of DPD.

I think this is an underutilized resource, and in some ways ought to be implemented more often for projects in design review. The Director and her designees do and should function kind of like a referee umpire or line judge.

I like the umpire analogy. An umpire has rules to follow but also has to interpret. Baseball’s constitution doesn’t work without an umpire. Complaints about specific umpires and their calls come and go, but their role is unassailable. Someone needs to make a decision about what’s happening so the game can continue.


It would be nice, especially during a process like design review, to have someone to intervene when the process starts to drift either because of bizarre off point comments (and sometimes it’s board members making those) or if there’s some question of fact that needs clearing up.

Too often in contentious land use discussions there are fewer facts than feelings. Which, I think, is fine. But using interpretations more often to call land use strikes and balls would be welcome.

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One Response to Division 3 Implementation 23.88 Rules; Interpretation

  1. Mark S Johnson says:

    Just to clarify, the idea of an “interpretation” as defined in this section is for an applicant or an interested party to make the intrepretation being applied by DPD appealable, which can be helpful but also is a way to slow things way down. That is where the metaphor breaks down, because an umpire makes an immediate call to keep the game moving. Whe an interpretation is requested, DPD must write up all the legal and policy precedents it is relying upon, and that is almost always followed by an appeal to the Hearing Examiner, and sometime on to court. A permitusually cannot be issued until the interpretation is resolved.

    So while it makes sense to as DPD to intrepret the Code, to make greater use of this section means making the review process much more legalistic (whether that makes it more or less emotional is a matter of opinion). When you don’t like DPD’s interpretation, that’s just great, and the Hearing Examiner has not been shy about telling DPD they have it wrong from time to time. But be careful what you ask for if you think this will be helpful to encouraging development.

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