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AGO 1980 No. 5 - January 24, 1980
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- PLATTING AND SUBDIVISION ‑- RESUBDIVISION OF LOT WITHIN EXISTING SUBDIVISION 

Where, within an existing land subdivision established pursuant to either chapter 58.16 or 58.17 RCW, the owner of an individual lot proposes to divide that lot into four or fewer smaller lots for the purpose of sale or lease, such action will not constitute the establishment of a "short subdivision" as defined in RCW 58.17.020(6) and, thereby, be subject to the city or county's short subdivision ordinance as enacted pursuant to RCW 58.17.060; instead, such action will constitute a "resubdivision" and thus be subject to the general provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW relating to subdivisions.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

                                                                 January 24, 1980 

Honorable Henry R. Dunn
Prosecuting Attorney
Cowlitz County
312 South First Avenue West
Kelso, Washington 98626

Cite as:  AGO 1980 No. 5                                                                                                         

 Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on two questions which we have paraphrased as follows: 

            (1) Where, within an existing land subdivision established pursuant to either chapter 58.16 or 58.17 RCW, the owner of an individual lot proposes to divide that lot into four or fewer smaller lots for the purpose of sale or lease, will such action constitute the establishment of a "short subdivision" as defined in RCW 58.17.020(6) and, thereby, be subject to the city or county's short subdivision ordinance as enacted pursuant to RCW 58.17.060? 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

(2) If the answer to Question No. 1 is in the negative, would such action constitute, instead, a "resubdivision" and thus be subject to the general provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW as a "subdivision"?

            We answer your first question in the negative and your second question in the affirmative. 

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            Chapter 58.17 RCW codifies the provisions of chapter 271, Laws of 1969, 1st Ex. Sess., as amended, and relates to platting and the formations of subdivisions.  Chapter 58.16 RCW, in turn, contained the predecessor to this 1969 state platting law. 

            Your questions assume the existence of a land subdivision earlier established pursuant to one or the other of those two chapters.  And, as we view it, it makes no difference which law was initially utilized.  The issue, in either event, involves the proper legal characterization to be applied to thesubsequent action by the current owner of an individual lot within the subdivision who now proposes ". . . to divide that lot into four or less smaller lots for the purpose of sale or lease, . . ." 

            Clearly, any such action now taken by the owner of a parcel of real property will be governed by the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW simply because that is the law now in effect with regard to plats and subdivisions.  Accord, AGLO 1974 No. 7, a copy of which is enclosed.  The precise issue to be determined will readily be seen upon examination of the following two definitions from RCW 58.17.020: 

            ". . .
 

            "(1) 'Subdivision' is the division of land into five or more lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale or leaseand shall include all resubdivision of land.
 

            ". . .
 

            "(6) 'Short subdivision' is the division of land into four or less lots, tracts, parcels, sites or subdivisions for the purpose of sale or lease.
 

            ". . ."  (Emphasis supplied) 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Also to be noted is RCW 58.17.030 which provides that: 

            "Every subdivision shall comply with the provisions of this chapter.  Every short subdivision as defined in this chapter shall comply with the provisions of any local regulation adopted pursuant to RCW 58.17.060." 

            Therefore, the proposed action described in your letter will be covered either by chapter 58.17 RCW itself‑-if that action is deemed to be a "resubdivision of land" within the meaning of RCW 58.17.020(1), supra‑-or, alternatively, it will be covered by the applicable county short subdivision ordinance if it is deemed, instead, to amount to the establishment of a new "short subdivision" as defined in RCW 58.17.020(6),supra.1/   In this latter regard, RCW 58.17.060 provides as follows: 

            "The legislative body of a city, town, or county shall adopt regulations and procedures, and appoint administrative personnel for the summary approval of short plats and short subdivisions, or revision thereof. 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

Such regulations shall be adopted by ordinance and may contain wholly different requirements than those governing the approval of preliminary and final plats of subdivisions and may require surveys and monumentations and shall require filing of a short plat for record in the office of the county auditor:  PROVIDED, That such regulations must contain a requirement that land in short subdivisions may not be further divided in any manner within a period of five years without the filing of a final plat:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That such regulations are not required to contain a penalty clause as provided in RCW 36.32.120 and may provide for wholly injunctive relief." 

            The issue thus crystalized is one which has never been addressed directly by any appellate court in this state or in any official opinion of this office;i.e., which "law," chapter 58.17 RCW or the applicable local short subdivision ordinance, governs the further division of an individual lot situated within an existing subdivision or short subdivision? 

            In the following three instances, the answer seems clear: 

            (1) Where the further division of an individual lot occurs within an existingshort subdivision (as defined in RCW 58.17.020(6), supra) within five years of the creation thereof: 

            RCW 58.17.060,supra, in dealing with the content of a county or city's short subdivision regulations, contains the following stipulation: 

            ". . . PROVIDED, That such regulations must contain a requirement that land in short subdivisions may not be further divided in any manner within a period of five years without the filing of a final plat: . . ." 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Thus, any further division of land within a short subdivision will necessitate the filing of a full "final plat"2/ if it occurs within five years of creation of the particular short subdivision, regardless of the number of "new" lots proposed. 

            (2) Where the further division of an individual lot occurs within either a subdivision or a short subdivision at any time and it is proposed to divide that lot into five or more "new" lots: 

            Likewise, even after this five‑year period has run, the further land division will still be governed by the general provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW, and not the local short subdivision regulations, if it is designed to produce five or more new lots within the confines of the existing lot being divided.  Accord, the definition of "subdivision" in RCW 58.17.020(1), supra, and see also, AGLO 1974 No. 7 and AGO 57-58 No. 88 (copies enclosed) to the effect that the term "land" must be deemed to include previously platted land or single lots as well as undeveloped, unplatted lands.  Moreover, this will be so, by definition, regardless of whether the lot being divided is within a full subdivision or a short subdivision. 

            (3) Where the further division occurs within a short subdivision more than five years after its creation and it is proposed to divide the individual lot in question into four or less "new" lots: 

            In this instance the apparent inference to be drawn from RCW 58.17.060,supra, is that the applicable short subdivision regulation of the county or city in question will govern‑-because the five‑year period covered by the proviso will have ended.  Otherwise, that proviso will be virtually meaningless. 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            But what if, instead (as stipulated in your questions), we have the following situation: 

            (a) The lot being further divided is situated within an existing full subdivision established pursuant to either chapter 58.16 or 58.17 RCW; and 

            (b) The proposal is to divide that lot into four or less lots for the purpose of sale or resale? 

            But for the last seven words in the definition of "subdivision" in RCW 58.17.020(1),supra,3/ the answer to even this question would seem to have been fairly apparent.  Because the "action" in question would, in that case, have fallen within the definition of a "short subdivision" as set forth in RCW 58.17.020(6), supra, and not the definition of the "subdivision" in subsection (1) of the same statute, the applicable "law" would have been that contained in the short subdivision regulations of the county or city involved rather than the general provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW. 

            It would, of course, have been helpful if the legislature, itself, having thus instead added the reference to "resubdivision" to its division of a "subdivision," had then later expressly defined that term as well.  Cf., our earlier letter opinion of August 28, 1973, to then State Representative Leonard A. Sawyer, copy enclosed.  But the legislature did not do so and thus our present task is to glean its intent from what, in fact, it said.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn.2d 390, 191 P.2d 858 (1948) and cases cited therein. 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            In so doing we must also bear in mind the principle that all parts of a statute must be construed together as an organic whole, and no part should be read out of context or ignored.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 203 P.2d 693 (1949).  Thus, no clause, sentence or word should be considered superfluous, void or insignificant.  Groves v. Meyers, 35 Wn.2d 403, 213 P.2d 483 (1950).  Moreover, a court will not place a narrow, literal or technical construction on only part of a statute and ignore other relevant parts.  In Re Cress, 13 Wn.2d 7, 123 P.2d 767 (1942).  And finally, to the extent that the language of an act is ambiguous or uncertain, resort is to be made to certain judicially approved aids to statutory construction including,e.g., the history of the act in question and the evils that it was designed to remedy.  State ex rel. Bugge v. Martin, 38 Wn.2d 834, 232 P.2d 833 (1951). 

            Unquestionably, the framers of our new (1969) state platting law were quite concerned with what were felt to be weaknesses in the prior law as it related (or, more properly, did not relate) either to the initial division of land into four or less lots or to the further division of an individual lot in an existing subdivision into four or less smaller lots.4/   See,e.g., the discussion relating to Substitute Senate Bill No. 169 between Representatives Chapin and Moon which is reported on page 1643 of the 1969 Journal of the House of Representatives and, also, the later discussion between the same two legislators on the free conference version of the bill at page 1777 of the House Journal.  In fact, the particular concern which was discussed on both occasions was, specifically, that of the further division of land within a "short subdivision" rather than the  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] instant question of how the division of a lot into four or less lots within an existing full subdivision would be regulated.  The answer, in turn, to that other question was established by the proviso to RCW 58.17.060 which we earlier quoted at page 4 of this opinion.  But it seems to us at least reasonable to assume that the drafters of Substitute Senate Bill No. 169 simply felt that they had already taken care of the instant problem by their further reference to "resubdivision" in the definition of what constitutes a subdivision; i.e., in what is now RCW 58.17.020(1),supra. 

            It is also interesting to note that while the term "resubdivision" did not appear in our "old" platting law, chapter 58.16 RCW, it did appear, at the time what is now chapter 58.17 RCW was drafted, in the New Jersey definition of the word "subdivision."  See, N.J.S.A. 40:55-1.2 (since repealed) which then read, in material part, as follows: 

            "'Subdivision' means the division of a lot, tract, or parcel of land into two or more lots, sites or other divisions of land for the purpose, whether immediate or future, of sale or building developments; . . .  Subdivision also includes resubdivision, and where appropriate to the context, relates to the process of subdividing or to the lands or territory divided." 

            And, inLake Intervale Homes v. Parsippany-Troy Hill, 47 N.J. Super. 334, 136 A.2d 57 (1957), which happens to be the only case reported in the legal publication, "Words and Phrases" for the meaning of the word "resubdivision," the New Jersey Court had earlier observed as follows: 

            "'Subdivision' is defined by N.J.S.A. 40:55-1.2 as 'the division of a lot, tract, or parcel of land into two or more lots, sites or other divisions of land for the purpose, whether immediate or future, of sale or building development,' and includes 'resubdivision,' The key word is 'division.'  Resubdivision can only mean a further division of a division previously made. . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 9]]

            It thus seems to us quite possible that the similarity between RCW 58.17.020(1),supra, and the definition of "subdivision" in N.J.S.A. 40:55-1.2,supra, is more than coincidental. 

            Finally, we note the further word "all" in the last line of our definition.  Under RCW 58.17.020(1), the term "subdivision" includes all resubdivision of land.  The only exception, apparently, is (for the reasons above explained), a further division into four or less lots of a lot within a short subdivision more than five years after its creation.  But unless, in every other instance, that last line of our definition means that any further division of land previously divided is also to be deemed a subdivision, that portion of the definition will be seen, in the final analysis, to be without any meaning at all.  And that, obviously, would be contrary to the applicable principles of statutory construction as above stated. 

            Conclusion: 

            Consequently, in direct answer to your two questions, it is our opinion that the further division of a lot within an existing plat or subdivision, whether established pursuant to chapter 58.16 or chapter 58.17 RCW, constitutes a "resubdivision" within the meaning of RCW 58.17.020(1), supra.  Such action therefore must thus comply with the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW relating to "subdivision," regardless of the number of new lots which result from the action in question.  We therefore answer your first question in the negative and your second question in the affirmative.5/ 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 10]]

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you. 

Very truly yours,
SLADE GORTON
Attorney General 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

ROBERT F. HAUTH
Senior Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   *** 

1/In order to be certain that we understood your questions, we wrote, following receipt of your initial request, and asked you: 

            "Is your true concern only with the proposed further division of a particular lot within a previously established subdivision (as exemplified by the attached rough drawing of a hypothetical subdivision) or, instead, are you inquiring about the procedures to be followed in amending the existing lot boundaries within the entire subdivision?"

            In response, by return letter, you advised us as follows: 

            ". . . our concern at this point is only with the resubdivision of lots within previously established subdivisions and does not include amending lot boundaries so long as no additional lots are created by the amendment."

2/Defined in RCW 58.17.020 as, 

            ". . . the final drawing of the subdivision and dedication prepared for filing for record with the county auditor and containing all elements and requirements set forth in this chapter and in local regulations adopted pursuant to this chapter." 

3/Here repeated for ease of reference as follows: 

            "(1) 'Subdivision' is the division of land into five or more lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale or leaseand shall include all resubdivision of land."  (Emphasis supplied) 

4/Chapter 58.16 RCW simply did not deal at all with the creation of what we now refer to as a "short subdivision;" i.e., the division of land into four or less lots for the purpose of sale or lease.  Instead, that prior law only governed the division of land into five or more lots and was silent on the omitted area of activity, leaving the regulation thereof entirely up to the various counties and cities under the general authority, as set forth in RCW 35.63.080, to ". . . regulate and restrict . . . [among other things] the subdivision and development of land . . ."  See, AGO 57-58 No. 88,supra. 

5/In so concluding we recognize that, some ten years after the law in question was first enacted, there is a lack of uniformity among the various local jurisdictions in actual practice throughout the state.  In fact, it is that apparent lack of uniformity which prompted your instant opinion request in the first place.  The state legislature, however, is now again in session and remains free to clarify its own intent, if we have not sufficiently done so, by doing what we recommended in our letter opinion of August 28, 1973, to then State Representative Sawyer, supra; namely, expressly defining the word "resubdivision."

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