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Neighborhoods win planning panel OK of rural zone

Fri., July 23, 2004

Make that neighborhood biggie-sized, please.

More than 150 Spokane Valley residents, fearing they’d be overrun by new housing construction, pleaded with city officials Thursday night to upend land-use laws allowing up to six homes an acre to be built in their countrified communities. They also want the right to keep livestock.

They walked away with an endorsement from the Spokane Valley Planning Commission to allow no more than one home an acre in the Ponderosa and Rotchford Acres neighborhoods.

“If someone bought my house tomorrow, and they wanted to have a horse, they couldn’t have one,” said Chuck Hafner, a Ponderosa neighbor contemplating the then and now of what government allows.

The teeth to the neighborhoods’ request is a proposed zoning classification called UR-1, which is common in semirural areas outside cities. It represents a one-home, one-acre standard and allows livestock. The commission endorsed the rural zoning proposal 6 to 1, with commissioner and real estate agent David Crosby opposed.

Crosby said that state law wouldn’t allow the rural designation and that Spokane Valley’s rural days were over.

“We’re now a city. As much as we love our rural lifestyle, we can’t go there anymore. I’m sorry,” Crosby said.

Neighbors must now take their fight to the Spokane Valley City Council, which has final say on the matter.

If approved by the council, the change would limit land development for one year, at which time the city expects to have its blueprint for community growth completed. The change would have to be reviewed in 12 months to see if the city wants rural zoning included in its community blueprint. Not everyone does.

Meg Arpin, a land development attorney, called the rural zoning distinction a Pandora’s box that opens the door for any Spokane Valley neighborhood with lots of an acre or more to close itself off from new home construction.

“Basically, you allow for the entire city of Spokane Valley to come forward and ask for a zone change to UR-1,” she said.

Arpin asked that the new rule be offered only to neighborhoods established as big-lot communities and with at least 95 percent of the land already built out to the one-home per acre minimum. The commission declined to entertain Arpin’s suggested change.

Neighbors testifying before the commission characterized the UR-1 proposal as righting a wrong.

Before Spokane Valley’s incorporation two years ago, Spokane County determined what development would be allowed in the community. The county decided over two years ago that six homes an acre was appropriate for Rotchford Acres and Ponderosa. When the city came into being, it simply adopted the county’s growth rules.

Residents said they had had no idea the county changed the land rules for their neighborhoods. If built out at six homes an acre, the Ponderosa neighborhood would balloon from 1,200 homes to 3,600.

“We had no way of knowing what was happening to us,” said Gail Stiltner.

Ponderosa neighbors are battling a proposed 181-home project by developer Lanzce Douglass that would be built at roughly six homes an acre. That project is outside the area proposed for UR-1 zoning and would not be influenced.


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