A Richland widow is suing the city for the right to use money from her late husband’s life insurance policy to add a second bedroom and bathroom to her modest home.
Linda Cameron, 70, claims the city of Richland violated her civil rights when it said she had to complete about $60,000 in road improvements to order to get the renovation permits.
That would pay for widening 400 feet of a street along the back of her property and adding curbs, street lights and sidewalks that don’t connect to other sidewalks.
Cameron filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington. She is represented by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Virginia focused on property rights.
“It’s terrible that the city won’t let me do what I want to do. They’re holding my property hostage,” she said in a video prepared by the law firm.
The legal team is best known for its work in the controversial Kelo v City of New London case.
Kelo led to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the use of eminent domain for economic development but sparked a nationwide backlash that led legislatures to draw up new rules to protect property owners.
Cameron’s lawsuit claims the city violated her constitutional rights by tacking unreasonable conditions onto her home improvement project, effectively taking her enjoyment of her property without compensation.
The suit asserts a Fifth Amendment right to just compensation and a 14th Amendment right to due process.
“The City’s demand that (Cameron) pay to renovate the City’s streets has nothing to do with any impact of (Cameron’s) planned renovation. The City simply wants (Cameron) to pay because the City does not want to pay,” the suit asserts.
City officials declined to talk about the litigation. The referred to the Title 12 section of the city code that requires street improvements associated with building permit activity.
42 years at Richland Wye
Linda and Gary Cameron bought their 1,200-square-foot home in the Richland Wye with one bedroom and one bathroom in 1977.
The property has a Geneva Street address and backs onto Fowler Street in an older, rural section of Richland. The Wye area is sandwiched between Highway 240 and the Columbia River.
Gary Cameron, a Hanford boilermaker, and Linda, a seamstress, planted trees and transformed the 1948-built house into a home.
The couple talked of renovating, but Gary Cameron died in 2012 before they could begin work, according to the suit.
After her husband’s death, Linda Cameron decided to use insurance money to add a second bedroom and bathroom to accommodate guests and visitors.
According to her attorneys, she loves her neighborhood and preferred to update her existing home over moving to a new area.
She hired AJ Construction and Development to design and build the addition.
The firm drew up plans to expand the house by roughly 744 square feet and to convert a carport into a two-care garage. The estimated cost was $143,000, plus $12,000 in sales taxes.
AJ submitted plans to the city in October 2018.
According to the suit, the city’s planning department signed off.
But the public works department invoked a section of the Richland municipal code that requires property owners to upgrade nearby streets when a project tops $50,000.
According to the suit, Cameron was informed she would have to upgrade the 400 feet of Fowler Street behind her home, including widening the street and installing curbs, sidewalks and street lights.
Her permit application was denied. On Oct. 30, 2018, Cameron was told to submit plans that included the street improvements, according to the suit.
Her attorneys say Cameron cannot afford to bear the cost to bring a rural street up to the city’s modern standards.
Her project would have no impact on public health, safety or environment and would not result in any additional traffic on Fowler Street.
“If Fowler Street is suffering from some deficiency, that deficiency preexists (Cameron’s) planned home renovation and has nothing to do with (her) planned renovation,” the suit asserts.
Cameron did not submit a claim for damages to the city, a step that is required by Washington state law. The Institute for Justice said federal suits aren’t subject to the state’s claim requirement.