Developers won a major victory Monday as two Spokane County commissioners voted to delay a key land-use decision until after the holidays.
The delay is a blow to lame-duck Commissioner Steve Hasson, who had hoped to help draw boundaries limiting urban development before he leaves office New Year’s Eve. Instead, his replacement will get the honor.
“We were outmaneuvered by the building community and we blinked,” said a despondent Hasson.
Commissioners had scheduled a meeting Friday to designate urban growth boundaries. The decision already is three months late according to the schedule set by the state’s Growth Management Act.
Several county planners had canceled holiday plans to help put the decision in writing for the commissioners to sign before Hasson leaves office.
But last Friday, developers filed nine appeals of the environmental impact statement used to decide where the boundaries should be.
Commissioners Phil Harris and John Roskelley decided Monday there’s no way to settle those appeals and still set the urban growth boundaries by the end of the year. Over Hasson’s objections, they voted to postpone the decision until Jan. 21.
The delay means Commissioner-elect Kate McCaslin will help make the decision rather than Hasson.
There has been widespread speculation that McCaslin, former executive director of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., would vote to leave more land open to development than Hasson, a former contractor, would. Many of McCaslin’s biggest campaign contributors were contractors, developers, Realtors and groups that represent those interests.
“I think it’s pretty darn presumptuous of anyone to try to say what I would or would not do,” said McCaslin. “I intend to listen to all sides before making a decision.”
Roskelley, who had fought hard to make the decision this year, said county attorneys and planners convinced him there is no way to meet that schedule without risking legal challenges.
“It was a tough (decision), but you have to do what’s best for the community,” said Roskelley.
In eight years as commissioner, Hasson said, he has made more than 400 land-use decisions and sat in on 160 growth management meetings.
“I have all that experience and it doesn’t help an iota” because the meeting was postponed, he said.
Hasson said he is “really disappointed” in Roskelley, and he accused growth management opponents of trying to endlessly delay the designation of urban growth boundaries, which will put much of the county off-limits to developers.
“It will be further delayed next year. Mark my words,” said Hasson. “The ‘21st of January’ is code word for the ‘13th of Never.”’
Spokane County was supposed to set urban growth boundaries by Oct. 1.
The state withheld highway money from Chelan County for missing growth management deadlines. But that’s not likely to happen in Spokane “as long as the county is proceeding in good faith,” said Skip Chilberg, a member of a regional hearings board appointed to settle growth management disputes.
Suzanne Knapp of the Spokane Home Builders Association said the commissioners “made the right decision.”
Knapp denied that developers had filed appeals on the last possible date for the sake of delaying the process. Among their concerns, she said, is that tight boundaries will be set without enough thought to the economic hardships that would cause landowners.
It’s not in the public’s interest “to hold a meeting of this importance during Christmas vacation,” said Knapp. “For goodness’ sake, I had to change vacation plans (to attend the Friday meeting that’s now been canceled) and I know a lot of other people who did, too.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? Commissioners are scheduled to make the land-use decision on Jan. 21 when Kate McCaslin will have replaced lame-duck Commissioner Steve Hasson.