Carl Bernson’s retirement plans counted heavily on the money he would make developing 18 acres he had bought in 1940.
“This property was my ace in the hole,” said Bernson, 77, a retired nurseryman who lives on Glenrose Prairie.
Bernson lost his hole card Tuesday night when county commissioners drew a line separating areas of the county where urban development will be encouraged from places set aside as rural.
Four months overdue, the land-use decision - required under the state’s Growth Management Act - is arguably the biggest in county history.
A steering committee had proposed including Bernson’s land in the urban area. Commissioners, who expanded the committee’s proposed boundaries in several areas, made only one significant reduction: a portion of Glenrose Prairie that won’t have sewers any time soon.
Now, instead of the 54 lots Bernson had hoped to sell, he can split his land into no more than three. That’s a blow to his income - but a relief to the folks who want to preserve the prairie’s rural flavor.
“It reflects the majority of the (Glenrose) community’s wishes,” said Joan Smith, a member of the Glenrose Homeowners’ Association.
The same drama of winners and losers was played out across the county as commissioners tweaked the boundaries suggested by the committee.
The urban area includes less land around Liberty Lake than developers had wanted but more of the nearby Greenacres neighborhood than a neighborhood association would prefer. The Valley Chamber of Commerce got part of a big expansion it wanted in commercial areas, but North Side builders got little of the additional land they had requested.
In a concession to people who want only a small chunk of country, commissioners set the minimum lot size outside the urban area at 5 acres. The committee had suggested a 10-acre minimum.
In recent months, the three commissioners listened to landowners worried about their investments and people who fear the county’s wild areas and farms are being subdivided indiscriminately.
They visited fringe neighborhoods that could easily fall into either the rural or urban classification.
Commissioner Kate McCaslin spent days listening to tapes and reading minutes from meetings that occurred before she took office Jan. 1. A pilot flew her over the North Side so she could get a good look at some of the county’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
Barred by state law from discussing the decision outside of public meetings, the commissioners took turns meeting with planners. Each suggested boundary changes and compromises for the staff to relay to the other two.
Some proposed changes were made as late as Tuesday morning. By Tuesday night, commissioners had a map on which they could agree, avoiding the public battle many observers had expected.
“No one got angry, no one got feisty,” said McCaslin. “It was give and take.”
A consultant who wrote an environmental study about the boundaries said the steering committee’s proposal was about 1,300 acres too small to handle the newcomers who will arrive in Spokane County during the next 20 years. Commissioners, concerned that the proposal didn’t include enough industrial land, undoubtedly added more than that amount, although the exact acreage hasn’t yet been totaled.
All three said setting the boundaries was an agonizing task.
“All decisions are tough when you’re messing with people’s property,” said Commissioner Phil Harris, an outspoken critic of the Growth Management Act.
“Now that this thing’s down on paper, it’s not so bad,” said Harris. “This line can be adjusted slightly if we screwed up anywhere.”
The first chance to adjust the line will come after the county writes a new set of regulations outlining exactly how land can be developed on either side of the growth boundary. That should take about a year.
In the meantime, commissioners suspect the boundaries will be challenged - perhaps by many people - before a state board established to hear such appeals.
Challenges could come from nine developers who had a variety of concerns about the way the boundaries were set. Commissioners threw out the developers’ complaints before voting Tuesday.
In recent weeks, scores of landowners in semi-rural areas filed subdivisions with the county, successfully end-running the new regulations.
Declaring an emergency, commissioners on Tuesday set a moratorium on any new rural lots smaller than 10 acres. The moratorium will last until county officials can write a legal description of the new boundaries, a process that expected to take about 30 days.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHANGES IN URBAN GROWTH PLAN There are several subtle and not-so-subtle changes between the urban growth boundaries Spokane County commissioners adopted Tuesday and those a committee suggested earlier. Commissioners expanded the designated urban area by adding: The Ponderosa and Painted Hills subdivisions and part of the Greenacres neighborhood in the Valley. Commercial and residential land near Spokane Industrial Park in the Valley. A five-mile wedge between Interstate 90 and the Spokane River east of Sullivan Road in the Valley. The Pine River neighborhood on the North Side, as well as land south and west of the Spokane Country Club. Commissioners deleted: Some land on Glenrose Prairie, where residents had urged commissioners not to allow urban development in areas without sewers.