The fight over Morgan Murphy Estates on the hilltops overlooking Glenrose Prairie and the western end of the Spokane Valley continues to inch through a legal maze.
Spokane County Commissioners are expected to consider the proposed 41-home development sometime in the next several weeks now that a county hearing examiner ruled the development complies with land-use laws. If it wins final approval - and there is a chance it could - the mountain that flanks Sprague Avenue near Park Road could one day sprout homes with big-time views.
Ownership of the 210-acre site dates to the founding of KXLY-TV in the early 1950s. The station’s founders, who included Bing Crosby and the first general manager, Edward Craney, bought the land as a backup site for a transmission tower, said Steve Herling, general manager of the station.
A small microwave relay tower can be seen atop Pantops Hill today.
The station recently renegotiated its lease with the state for its long-standing transmission tower on Mount Spokane, leaving the Pantops property as an excess asset, Herling said. He said he wants to develop the Morgan Murphy Estates on Pantops to provide money for renovation of the station’s studios on Boone Avenue.
The property is zoned to allow one home on every five acres, but Herling said that kind of development wouldn’t be suitable on the site because of the steep terrain in some parts. He also said he wants the development to be sensitive to the woodland environment.
KXLY has proposed a planned-unit development that would cluster 41 homes in two sections of the property. Each home would be on a lot of about one acre or more apiece, leaving 68 percent of the land as open space for wildlife corridors and trails. Homes in the cluster at the crest of Pantops, at an elevation of 3,050 feet, would have 270-degree views that include the Spokane Valley nearly 1,000 feet below.
“We want an environmentally sensitive, model development under the existing zoning code,” Herling said.
Residents who live on Glenrose Prairie to the southwest believe the proposal is a bad idea. They are concerned about traffic, water supplies, stormwater, seepage from sewage and other issues.
For more than a year they’ve been fighting to stop the development and have said they are prepared to go to Superior Court if necessary.
The development initially was approved by the county’s hearing examiner committee after a public hearing more than a year ago.
The residents, known as the Glenrose Associates, appealed to the county commissioners. The commissioners held their own hearing and denied the development last March.
Then the state changed land-use laws. Now, only one public hearing on the record can be held on any new land-use laws.
At the same time, the county abandoned its hearing examiner committee in favor of an individual hearing examiner hired as a legal expert to rule on land-use proposals.
That left the status of the Morgan Murphy Estates in a legal limbo. To resolve the status of the proposal, the commissioners sent the case to the Spokane’s city hearing examiner for a decision.
Greg Smith, acting as the county’s hearing examiner pro tem, ruled that the proposed development meets county land-use laws if the developers can arrange to provide sufficient water from a nearby provider and meet other requirements.
That would require approval from the Boundary Review Board.
In his decision, Smith wrote, “The concept is that the property owner can develop at the certain overall density required by the zoning code, while preserving critical areas. such as wetlands, steep slopes, wildlife corridors or other special features of the site.”
Now, county commissioners must decide whether to accept Smith’s decision or reconsider the case.
Civil prosecutor James Emacio said the issue will go before the board within the next several weeks.