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Some Otis Orchards residents wary of plan

Some Otis Orchards residents were alarmed when they learned a Liberty Lake development proposal involves the north side of the Spokane River.

The May 15 hearing focused on formation of a “revenue development area” to provide sales tax assistance to a 700-acre residential and commercial development in Liberty Lake. An identical revenue area was formed in December 2005 to provide property tax assistance.

Why, the Otis Orchards residents wanted to know, were about 300 acres on the north bank of the Spokane River included in the revenue area for a project on the south side of the river?

Jim Frank, developer of the River District at Liberty Lake, said the north bank land was included for long-range sewer planning.

He said the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District has a large amount of sewage treatment capacity that can be used only on the north side of the river. Urban development on that side of the river would require a change in urban growth boundaries and wouldn’t happen for at least a decade, Frank said.

However, he thinks the area may be developed “over a 20-year horizon.” The county comprehensive land plan designates the north bank land as “urban reserve,” and it “just doesn’t make sense” to tell the Liberty Lake sewer district it can’t use much of its capacity, Frank said.

“It’s a classic case of allowing our sewage to direct our development,” said county Treasurer Skip Chilberg, who served previously on the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. “They basically try to direct development by building capacity.”

Why build capacity that can be used only on the north bank?

“Check the property ownership,” Chilberg said.

Assessor’s records show the bulk of the undeveloped land in the north bank portion of the revenue development area is owned by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

Centennial Vice President Bob Smith agreed with Frank that the north bank land probably won’t be developed for more than a decade.

Frank said he plans a meeting with Otis Orchards residents Monday and thinks he already is “on very cordial relations” with them.

“That’s not necessarily the case,” said Carole Hojnowski, who practices law in her home and considers urbanization of Otis Orchards her worst nightmare. “We absolutely need more information. … We don’t want any games played with us.”

Lee Mellish, director of the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District, said the district has perhaps a half-million gallons of excess sewage-treatment capacity and would entertain a request to extend service to the north bank portion of the River District if land-use restrictions were removed.

He said the district built its treatment plant with lots of spare capacity because, relatively speaking, a bigger plant doesn’t cost much more than a smaller one.

District officials want to be ready for new manufacturing plants and other developments, Mellish said.