A road project in a fast-growing part of the Spokane Valley has become the latest example of what some describe as a frustrating lack of intergovernmental coordination in the region’s development.
Spokane County recently asked Spokane Valley to dedicate nearly $80,000 to widen three city-owned blocks of pavement that are part of proposed improvements to Barker Road south of town. But the project isn’t included in the city’s road budget, and the deadline for a grant application for its funding is due Wednesday.
“We don’t want to use up all of our reserves for projects that come up out of the blue,” said Councilman Rich Munson.
At its meeting Tuesday, City Council members irately characterized the request as another case of the county failing to consult with the city regarding decisions that directly affect roads and services inside Spokane Valley.
“If we’ve ever heard a case for joint planning, this is it,” Munson said at the meeting.
If the state grants matching funds for the project in 2007, it will widen Barker from Eighth Avenue to 32nd Avenue and eliminate two 90-degree curves in the road.
“It is a fairly short application period,” said Spokane County Assistant County Engineer Bob Brueggeman. The chance of obtaining the state grant to help fund the project surfaced in recent weeks, he said, but the county has been considering the improvements for more than a year.
With or without that specific grant, though, members of the council said the county could have informed the city about the project earlier so it could be considered for city road funds that are mapped out as far as six years in advance.
The council offered to pay a lower percentage of the cost, about $40,000 from a contingency fund.
Council frustration Tuesday over the lack of advance information mirrored sentiments the mayor expressed to a state House committee in July and tensions between Spokane and the county over developments just outside of city limits.
“Transportation is probably the biggest concern,” said Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple at a recent meeting of elected officials on joint planning. He said people living in developments on county land next to the city essentially use Spokane streets for free.
In Spokane Valley, planning officials worry that county projects could restrict homebuilding inside the city unless expensive infrastructure improvements are planned well in advance.
According to a Spokane Valley staff report prepared earlier in the month, planners warned that subdivisions in the county off Barker Road could overload at least two intersections inside the city. An amendment to the county’s comprehensive land use plan brought 419 acres into the urban growth boundary there. Of that, 244 acres is undeveloped, with the potential for 976 additional houses that could generate more than 10,000 daily vehicle trips on Valley roads, according to the report.
“We hadn’t looked at that portion of the city for immediate development,” Munson said when asked if the county’s Barker project would have been part of Spokane Valley’s roadwork plans if the city had known about it earlier.
Under the state’s Growth Management Act and Spokane County’s Countywide Planning Policies, developed lands next to cities are considered potential annexation areas and should be built with city standards in mind. The planning policy calls for the formation of interlocal planning agreements to help accomplish that and allow cities to prepare for the growth.
So far, that hasn’t happened.
Apple, Munson, County Commissioner Mark Richard and representatives from Airway Heights and special purposes districts serve on a committee charged with developing joint planning agreements. The committee has met once since the planning group was amended in 2004.
At the meeting two weeks ago, the officials questioned exactly what role those agreements would play and where they would take effect.
Discussing whether the county considers annexation when it develops urban areas outside cities, Richard said he doesn’t think urban growth areas are synonymous with annexation areas. People in some developed places, he said, prefer to remain under county control.
“It makes sense to assume that the cities will eventually annex those areas,” he said later.
Still, Munson said he is confident that the committee will eventually resolve the joint planning issue in a way that benefits everybody.
In the meantime, many homeowners don’t even realize they are outside of the city.
“Some of them are kind of angry because there is that inconsistency” in services in the same neighborhood, said Realtor Connie Kubu after she helped a family move into a house in the Turtle Creek subdivision off Barker Wednesday. Half of the subdivision is in the city and half is in the county.
“They don’t work together,” she said.