Fearing new restrictions, landowners are flooding Spokane County with requests for subdivisions.
After years of debate, county commissioners may decide tonight which areas of the county should be set aside for urban growth and which should be designated rural.
Under the state’s Growth Management Act, local government must provide sewers and other urban services inside the urban-growth boundaries. Outside, interim rules will ban new lots smaller than 10 acres.
During four hearings in the last two weeks, commissioners have heard from hundreds of people who are worried their land will be designated rural. Some said they bought land as a retirement investment and are worried its value will plummet if growth is restricted.
Others are avoiding the worry by starting the paperwork for land development now.
Although the rules are unclear, most county officials say land-use applications submitted while the old rules still are in effect will be exempt from the new rules. The exemption will end if the landowner doesn’t get final approval within five years.
Requests for land divisions and zone changes filed in the last two months are four times greater than during the same period last year, said county planner Stacy Bjordahl.
There was a surge of requests in December, Bjordahl said, then a respite after commissioners delayed the decision they had planned to make Dec. 27. Lately, there’s been another rush in anticipation of tonight’s decision.
“A lot of the people who we see coming into the office have been very concerned about the boundaries,” Bjordahl said. “They don’t want to get the door closed on them.”
At a Jan. 22 hearing on the proposed growth boundaries, Jim Bohn said his family filed paperwork for a subdivision on its 28 acres in December, even though it didn’t plan to divide the land any time soon.
The property near the Mead airport is outside the proposed growth boundary but surrounded by a trailer park, businesses and houses on one-acre lots. Restricting his family’s land to 10-acre lots would reduce its value significantly, Bohn said.
Planners say that even before the recent surge in subdivisions, there were thousands of undeveloped, platted lots in areas that are otherwise likely to be off-limits to urban development.
Some of those subdivisions were filed decades ago; others were filed in the early 1990s, just before new rules for septic tanks limited areas where subdivisions could occur.
Commissioner John Roskelley said commissioners could have placed a moratorium on new subdivisions while they were debating the location of growth boundaries. The subject never came up at a commissioners’ meeting.
Roskelley said that while platted lots are exempt from the new laws, developers may not be able to get the public water and sewers needed to put houses on the land. Attorneys and planners are still debating whether local governments can legally provide those services outside the urban area.
“There are a thousand different scenarios we’re trying to work through,” said John Mercer, the county planner assigned to implementing the Growth Management Act. “That’s just one of them.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Rush to divide
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING TONIGHT Spokane County commissioners are expected to decide tonight which areas of the county are off-limits to urban growth. But that decision may be delayed if commissioners decide that complaints raised by nine developers are valid. Among other things, the developers complain that the city and county have not adequately studied the impact the restrictions will have on growth. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the public works hearing room, 1026 W. Broadway.