August 27, 2008, by
In County of Humboldt v. McKee, the First District Court of Appeal found a property owner liable for sales of parcels that violated the previous owners’ Williamson Act contract, including violations of revisions to the Act’s guidelines that were adopted after execution of the initial contract. Under the Williamson Act, property owners may voluntarily adopt restrictions limiting their land to agricultural uses in exchange for favorable tax rates. A Williamson Act contract must have an initial term of ten years, and each year is automatically extended for an additional year, unless notice of nonrenewal is given by one of the parties. The McKee property had been the subject of a 1977 Williamson Act contract, which, in accordance with the Williamson Act guidelines in effect at the time, prohibited division of the property into parcels of less than 160 acres. The year after execution of the contract, the guidelines were revised to prohibit division of Williamson Act property into parcels of less than 600 acres (“1978 Guidelines”). In 2002, the McKees began subdividing and selling parcels, some of which were smaller than 600 acres. The County sued alleging violation of the Williamson Act and breach of contract.