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Liberty Lake expansion rejected

A major town expansion, expected to double the size of Liberty Lake, was denied Monday by the Washington State Boundary Review Board.

The expansion would have added another 650 acres to Liberty Lake’s western edge and married the community of 5,511 to a 3,000-home mega-development along the Spokane River. The majority of those who own parcels within the disputed property favor Liberty Lake annexation. Much of the land belongs to a subsidiary of Inland Empire Paper Co., which is owned by the same company that owns The Spokesman-Review.

The board unanimously concluded Liberty Lake had not proven it could provide services to the would-be addition. Specifically, the board faulted the small city on Spokane County’s eastern-most edge for not having a capital facilities plan. The plan, required by the state, spells out how a city will provide essential services such as sewer, water and roads, as well as how many people can be served.

“To really know what services can be provided, they need a capital facilities plan,” said Phyllis Meyer, Boundary Review Board member. “The crux of growth management is being able to plan for orderly growth and development so you’re not waiting 20 years for parks.”

After the meeting, Doug Smith, Liberty Lake’s director of planning and community development, said concerns about his city’s ability to serve its citizens were being overplayed. In Liberty Lake, essential services such as sewer, water and fire are all provided by agencies that existed long before the community incorporated three years ago. The city provides services such as police, parks and road repair at a level higher than offered by neighboring Spokane and Spokane Valley, he said.

Likewise, the 650 acre parcel in question is served by an independent water district and receives sewer service from Spokane County. The development proposed for the property by Greenstone Corp. includes roads, parks and walking trails as well as a community center at no expense to Liberty Lake.

Still, the town had yet to produce a state-approved plan outlining how those services would be provided, not only in the 650 acres, but also for the existing town. Liberty Lake officials say they have a capital facilities plan, but haven’t been able to determine how many residents they serve. The number of residents is determined by Spokane County, which has yet to officially allocate Liberty Lake’s population.

The city has been champing at the bit for a population number for two years, but the matter has been delayed by a county steering committee, which only recently had enough members present at its meetings to conclude the issue. Now Spokane County’s commission must weigh in on the allocated population before the number can be used.

The Boundary Review Board may have never debated Liberty Lake’s capital facilities plan or its population allocation were it not for Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake’s neighbor to the west, which was eyeing a portion of the 650 acres for itself.

Spokane Valley wasn’t interested in the large housing project or accompanying parks, but it did want a strip of commercial land along Interstate 90 and Country Vista Drive. Spokane Valley filed an objection to Liberty Lake’s plans, based on the smaller city’s lack of a capital facilities plan and population allocation.

The Boundary Review Board will issue a written decision in early December, after which Liberty Lake will have 30 days to appeal. But without population figure from Spokane County and an approved capital facilities plan, Liberty Lake’s growing pains will continue.