November 15, 1996 in Nation/World

Angry Crowd Blasts Rural Land Plan Limiting Size Of Rural Lots To No Less Than 40 Acres Angers Landowners Near Mount Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Tina Knapp was raised in the city.

But she’s all country now, having moved to 400 acres in the rolling hills south of Mount Spokane to become a farmer.

Now she’s afraid proposed changes in the Spokane County zoning map could kill her bucolic dream.

It doesn’t matter to Knapp that the change - restricting lot sizes in her neighborhood to a minimum of 40 acres rather than 10 - is meant to protect farms from encroaching development.

“If you people want to put your hands on my land, buy it from me,” Knapp told the county Planning Commission on Thursday.

Knapp was part of an angry overflow crowd of more than 200 who packed the hearing room. They chided planners, the volunteer planning commissioners and the only person who testified in favor of the proposal.

One man said the change smacks of communism. Another said it is something a fascist or Nazi might propose. A Realtor said it was like taking money straight from people’s bank accounts.

“Get a rope,” muttered one man.

At issue is whether thousands of acres in the Foothills and on Pleasant and Peone prairies - all in the shadow of Mount Spokane - should be designated “exclusive agriculture” under county zoning regulations.

The designation would mean land cannot be divided into parcels smaller than 40 acres. Land already subdivided into smaller lots still could be developed.

The Planning Commission is considering the same designation for an area straddling state Highway 27 near the towns of Mica and Valleyford and in the Four Mounds area in the northwestern corner of the county.

In addition, the commission is developing forestry and mining zones to give similar protection to lands used for those purposes.

The state Growth Management Act requires counties to enact zoning that protects farmland labeled “prime and unique” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But farmers such as Knapp said they need the ability to sell small lots. At times, that’s the only way to raise money and save the rest of the farm, she said.

Tighter restrictions also mean lower land values, and land is what farmers use as collateral when they borrow money, said Steve Hauschild, a banker who specializes in farm loans. His family homesteaded in the Foothills area about 100 years ago, and his brother and father still farm there, he said.

Others said they bought their land with the idea of selling off pieces to pay for retirement.

Still more were puzzled that their steep, rocky or timbered land could be considered “prime” for farming.

Sobbing as she spoke, Viola Eden of Valleyford said her late husband tilled their land only about once a decade.

“When we went snowmobiling, I always went behind him because he knew where the piles of rock are,” she said. “And that’s prime farm land?”

About a quarter of the county already is zoned exclusively for agriculture. Most of the people who live in those areas are farmers and most of the roads are gravel. Barns are as common as houses.

But there are only about 10 people in Knapp’s neighborhood who still support their families by working the deep, fertile soil.

Many farmers subdivided their land years ago, selling parcels to people who commute to jobs in town and farm for a hobby, if at all. Roads are crowded with commuters zipping from the North Side to the Valley and back again.

Mead School District is building a new high school nearby, attracting more newcomers. That project was approved by the county over the objection of many of its neighbors.

The remaining farmers have 30, 40 or 50 landlords, piecing together tiny parcels to get the 1,000 or more tillable acres needed to make a living.

“If you could see any of these farmers’ tax returns, you would be scared to death,” said Dennis Morissey, who owns about 300 acres farmed by his son.

The sole supporter of the proposed zoning change said she moved to her 10-acre lot eight years ago, and enjoys the view of farm land.

“Are we going to populate and fill every inch of the earth?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” shouted several people in the angry crowd.

“Lady,” yelled Knapp, “who sold you your 10 acres?”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? So many people showed up for Thursday’s meeting of the Spokane County Planning Commission that a decision on extending the “exclusive agriculture” zone was postponed until 6 p.m. Wednesday. And since the county’s hearing room wasn’t large enough for Thursday’s crowd, next week’s meeting will be held at the City Council chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Also at that meeting, the commission will hear testimony on the boundaries of new zones to protect forests and land that could be developed for gravel pits and other mining.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? So many people showed up for Thursday’s meeting of the Spokane County Planning Commission that a decision on extending the “exclusive agriculture” zone was postponed until 6 p.m. Wednesday. And since the county’s hearing room wasn’t large enough for Thursday’s crowd, next week’s meeting will be held at the City Council chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Also at that meeting, the commission will hear testimony on the boundaries of new zones to protect forests and land that could be developed for gravel pits and other mining.

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