Dwayne Lane can build in Arlington, court says

ARLINGTON — The low-price cowboy rode out on top.

Nearly 15 years after Dwayne Lane began fighting to build a car dealership on farmland near Arlington, the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor Thursday.

In a 6-3 vote, the court decided that Lane, who bills himself as “the low-price cowboy” on his TV commercials, can sell cars along I-5 just south of Island Crossing near Arlington.

The decision paves the way for the city of Arlington to annex 110 acres of mostly unused farmland that includes 15 acres owned by Lane. The ruling also opens opportunities for other businesses to build on the triangle of farmland snuggled between I-5, Highway 530 and Smokey Point Boulevard.

Lane found out he had won the case this morning in a phone call from his son, Tom Lane, who has taken over for his dad as president and chief executive of the family’s auto business.

Dwayne Lane, 73, didn’t pick up the phone immediately because he was at the YMCA doing a “workout that an old guy can do — and I work hard.” He called his son back as he walked out of the YMCA, and, overwhelmed by the news, breathed deep.

“First you get really excited, then you get really humbled,” Lane said, after a celebratory lunch with his son. “It’s been a battle that we thought was always right.”

The Supreme Court decision affirms an appellate court ruling from April 2007. That ruling reversed a 2005 Snohomish County Superior Court decision that found that a movement by landowners and the city of Arlington to annex and urbanize Island Crossing violated the state’s Growth Management Act.

The city, Snohomish County and Lane all appealed the decision and won.

Then the state appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The state and a half dozen other groups argued that the land historically has been used for farming and should not be zoned for commercial use.

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said Alan Copsey, senior counsel at the Attorney General’s Office. “We’re probably still concerned that any new development at Island Crossing is susceptible to flooding since the entire area lies within the Stillaguamish River flood plain and flooding has occurred there before.”

Because the case involved state issues and didn’t rely on federal law, Thursday’s decision can’t be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Copsey said.

Even so, it will be a while before the Lanes can begin building their new car dealership. The Snohomish County Council needs to decide whether or not to adopt the land into Arlington’s urban growth area, which would make it eligible for annexation. The council has supported the move in the past.

Then the Arlington City Council would have to vote whether to annex the land.

City spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said city leaders support the annexation. The city already provides water and sewer services in the area.

“We get regular requests from landowners in that area to be included in the UGA and be annexed into the city,” she said. “It’s great land, and it’s already been developed a fair amount to urban standards. (Places) like that belong in cities.”

Attorney Steve Peiffle began working on the case for the city of Arlington in the early ’90s. For him, Thursday’s ruling is a historic finale that boosts the power of local governments to decide what’s best for their communities.

“Very few land use decisions or decisions that relate to land use policy take this long or are this contentious,” he said. “The fact that it has been through so much litigation, I guess gives you an indication of how important it seems to be to the parties. Certainly from a historical context, it’s been an important part of what’s been happening in north Snohomish County for a long time.”

Justice Richard Sanders wrote the majority opinion for the court, with four justices concurring. Justice Tom Chambers concurred in a separate opinion.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander joined justices Barbara Madsen and Debra Stephens in the dissent opinion. They argued the farmland should not be included in Arlington’s growth area.

The potential impact of the case is unclear, in part, because the court relied on the appellate court decision and didn’t write a new standard, said Tim Trohimovich, a planning director with Futurewise, an environmental group that joined the appeal.

“We do respectfully believe, in an era of high food prices like we are in now, it is a poor idea to rezone agriculture land to urban use,” he said.

For Dwayne Lane, the bad economy is a reason to go ahead and build the dealership near Island Crossing.

“I’m pretty happy, and really, it’s for the employees,” he said. “Everybody is laying people off and going away. It’s not good. We’re going to go as fast as government agencies and the permitting process can.”

The low-price cowboy rides on.

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