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Valley neighbors to get more say on development

Neighborhoods will be able to offer more guidance to Spokane Valley planners as they map out roads, housing and other land use under a chapter added to the latest draft of Spokane Valley’s Comprehensive Plan.

The current draft of the city’s 20-year planning goals includes a chapter on neighborhood and sub-area planning.

“The Planning Commission weighed the evidence and said that this was a really important piece of planning to make a healthy community,” said Mary Pollard, a Greenacres resident who has spent the past year fighting for changes to the way development has been happening there.

In her neighborhood, recently mown fields and the occasional barn border freshly oiled streets where new houses are rising from subdivided acre-plus lots and former farmland.

“Urbanization is very often a painful process,” said Marina Sukup, the city’s community development director.

Under the state’s Growth Management Act, Washington counties are allotted so much land based on population to designate as urban growth areas. Anything outside of that must be rural, and land inside it must be developed to a targeted – usually higher – density.

If enacted, chapter 10 of the Comprehensive Plan could give neighborhood groups more say in how that happens.

“In a lot of respects it is a more detailed, more refined look at specific areas of the community,” Sukup said of the sub-area plans envisioned in the chapter.

“We know where a road needs to be,” Pollard said, offering one example of information in a neighborhood plan the city might not otherwise consider.

The chapter also lists as a goal that new development be of “scale and design that is compatible with existing neighborhood character.”

“This goal is expressing what we have heard at every single neighborhood meeting,” planning commissioner Bill Gothmann said at last week’s meeting.

Chairman David Crosby expressed reservations about that wording, saying that it could lead to overly restrictive requirements for new buildings.

In the end, the neighborhood-character language was included. Four commissioners voted in favor of including the chapter in the Comprehensive Plan, with Commissioner Bob Blum abstaining.

After it finishes its deliberation, the Planning Commission will forward the plan to the City Council, which will have more public hearings and make its own changes this fall.

If approved, sub-area plans would have to comply with the Growth Management Act, and suggested improvements to areas would still be subject to the limitations of the city’s budget.

Still, city officials said it would help to bridge the gap between citywide planning policies and the concerns of residents in specific areas.