County Commissioner Phil Harris, who has frequently clashed with Friends of the Little Spokane River over land-use decisions, met recently with the neighborhood on a friendlier note.
Harris was one in a series of county commissioners invited to speak to the group.
While land use was a key point in his discussion, Harris also talked briefly about the general health of the county (“It’s better than most in Washington”), Martin Hall, the new, get-tough juvenile detention center, and the future of Spokane’s children.
But Harris and the crowd focused mainly on parks, growth management, interim urban growth boundaries and land-use decisions.
Tom Hargreaves, president of the neighborhood group, noted that Harris voted to approve Hunter’s Pointe and Gleneden Heights, two subdivisions the neighborhood aggressively opposed.
Hunter’s Pointe plans call for 40 houses on 21 acres atop a ridge overlooking the Little Spokane River. Gleneden Heights plans include 55 houses on 11 acres.
However, Hargreaves also pointed out Harris supported Fish Lake Park, conservation futures and 400 acres of conservation land near Long Lake.
Also, earlier this month, Harris voted with commissioners to buy the five-acre Vrem property near Gleneden for a neighborhood park.
“Have I made some poor judgement calls? Yes,” said Harris. “But land-use decisions are tough. Right or wrong, you have to make those decisions by the law.”
If everything is in order - such as roads, schools, services and law enforcement - then decisions often come down to simply abiding by the law, said Harris.
“If I had my way, I’d put a five-acre park in every subdivision. But I can’t do that because it’s not in the law,” said Harris.
He also urged creative ways of acquiring land for parks and open space without buying it, perhaps bequeathing land to the county for open space.
Harris stood by his conviction that 200-foot shoreline setbacks are too restrictive. “I had a problem with that,” he said, noting that finally he agreed to it. “I also don’t want to see houses leaning out over creeks and rivers.”
Neighbors asked about the potential effect of a lawsuit by developers requiring the county to redraw boundaries showing where urban development is allowed.
“There may be some problem with the boundaries, but I don’t think the lawsuit is going to change a lot,” said Harris.