Glenrose Prairie continues to be a battleground in the ongoing growth war, but Spokane County commissioners may have stopped the fighting on the western front.
Last week, the commissioners voted unanimously not to include the west end of Glenrose Prairie within the county’s new urban growth boundaries.
In doing so, the commissioners overruled recommendations by the Spokane City Council and a steering committee of elected officials who called for opening the west end of prairie to higher urban densities.
The decision by the commissioners on Feb. 11 sets the boundary for urban growth for the next 20 years under the state’s Growth Management Act.
The boundaries will become the framework for a new comprehensive plan and zoning code expected in about a year. The boundaries could be adjusted when those documents are adopted, and they can be reviewed every five years thereafter.
The area in question is accessible from the west side of Glenrose Road.
The move to take western Glenrose Prairie out of the urban area was the only modification in south Spokane County made by the commissioners.
Elsewhere on the South Side, the commissioners went along with previous recommendations of elected officials.
Much of the West Plains around Medical Lake and Airway Heights is included in the urban growth area. That is because the land there is already served by public sewer and water and has been targeted for urban and light industrial growth for years, said John Mercer, director of long-range planning for the county.
That doesn’t mean Glenrose will be immune to growth. The county still may allow the development of the upscale Morgan Murphy Estates with 42 homes on 210 acres on the north end of the prairie. The plan is consistent with the current zoning of allowing one house per five acres.
That planned-unit development was recently approved in a review by a hearing examiner, and county civil attorney James Emacio said he is studying the case for the commissioners.
In the wake of the Feb. 11 decision setting urban growth boundaries, some residents of Glenrose Prairie praised the commissioners for preserving the semirural character of the bucolic basin under the northern flank of Browne Mountain.
But developers and other residents objected to the decision, saying Glenrose is a logical extension of the current housing boom in southeast Spokane.
Urban growth could bring three homes per acre.
“We are just elated,” said Dick Boge, president of the Glenrose Community Association, which represents 168 families in the area.
He said the decision proves that smaller landowners can influence local decisions if they band together and articulate their case.
“We know the commissioners are listening to us,” Boge said.
Al Payne, who is heading up a development group called Glenrose Associates, wants to put 100 homes on 36 acres on the west side of Glenrose Road at about the south 4500 block. The area is southeast of Chase Middle School.
His group has won preliminary approval by the Spokane City Council for the Muirfield Annexation, which means the city is willing to extend water, sewer and stormwater service to the property.
The property is just outside the current reach of those utilities now.
The annexation proposal was sent to the Boundary Review Board but has been held up by a lawsuit filed against the city by the Glenrose Community Association.
“I just happen to think we have a right to develop our property,” Payne said. “At the eleventh hour, they (the commissioners) throw us out.”
County Commissioner Kate McCaslin said the board heard testimony both for and against extending the growth boundary to Glenrose Road.
“That was one of the toughest decisions,” she said.
Since the county adopted a comprehensive plan in the early 1980s, the area under dispute has been considered semirural, she said.
Throughout the county, the commissioners declined to extend the urban area beyond the current comprehensive plan, Mercer said.
In several areas, the commissioners drew back on the urban growth area in the existing plan in setting the new growth boundary, he said.
Thus the decision on Glenrose Prairie is consistent with the commissioners’ approach elsewhere in Spokane, Mercer said.
A big issue has been concern over sewer and stormwater.
The proposed Glenrose annexation lies adjacent to a narrow drainage that is plagued with runoff problems from existing developments.
Payne said part of the property his group wants to develop has been eroded because the county installed a stormwater diversion pipe that spills water onto the group’s land during storms and snow-melting periods.
At the same time, the city uses the natural drainage channel at the west end of prairie as a site for sewage lagoons.
Payne argued that bringing city sewer lines to his proposed development would eliminate the need for the lagoons and the county could then use the natural drainage channel for stormwater.
He said the county’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the stormwater and sewage issues may be the real reason the commissioners excluded his proposed development from the urban growth area.
McCaslin and other county officials acknowledged the stormwater problem needs addressing but said that isn’t the sole reason for putting the boundary where they did.
Advocates of growth management say urban growth boundaries are needed to make sense out of the leapfrog development that has taken over many rural areas and is costing local governments large amounts of money to extend school, road and utility services.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Urban growth areas