January 8, 2009 in City

Verner vetoes shoreline-law exception

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has nixed part of the city’s extensive new shoreline law over an amendment that would make an exception for a section of land owned by the city’s former CEO.

Next week, the Spokane City Council will decide if it will override Verner’s veto of development rules along Latah Creek. The council voted last month to enlarge the zone where no construction is allowed from 100 feet to 200 feet along most of the waterway. But along a 900-foot section owned by former Spokane CEO John Pilcher, council members changed the proposal to keep the 100-foot buffer.

The City Council can override the mayor’s veto with five votes.

Verner said the larger buffer is needed to protect habitat and avoid impacting areas prone to flooding and movement of the creek.

“Narrowing the buffer to 100 feet – and thereby encouraging more and more dense development in this zone – is poor land-use planning,” Verner wrote in an explanation of her veto to City Council.

Pilcher, who served as the city’s second-in-command under former Mayor Dennis Hession, said Wednesday that he hadn’t seen Verner’s explanation.

“I’m sure the mayor has good reasons for what she’s done,” Pilcher said. “I’m more than happy to discuss it with her.”

Most of Pilcher’s land, which totals about 45 acres, is on the west side of the creek – just across the water from a future U.S. Highway 195 interchange at Cheney-Spokane Road.

In prepared testimony to the City Council in November, Pilcher pointed to an analysis of his property by a biologist he hired that says a buffer between 75 feet and 135 feet would be adequate.

The land currently has a home that Pilcher rents. He said he hopes to develop the land, which is zoned for residential, after the interchange is built.

In his prepared remarks, Pilcher said development of the site could prevent sprawl, generate tax dollars and reduce traffic that otherwise would have to travel farther for services.

Councilman Bob Apple noted that Verner agreed to other exceptions made for private landowners along the Spokane River in part of the shoreline plan that Verner did not veto.

“We did it for others, and I can’t see why we wouldn’t do it for that one, too,” Apple said.

Verner said the 200-foot restriction was based on scientific analysis. She said the smaller 100-foot buffer was used only for property already developed or for property with vested development plans.

“Here we had a piece of property that was not built out or platted into small lots, and we had an opportunity to maintain the buffer that was recommended throughout the process,” Verner said in an interview.

Councilman Richard Rush said that he supports Verner’s veto, but that he’s concerned that reopening debate on the buffers could lead to weakened protections along all of Latah Creek. He noted that even without the veto, changes to the Pilcher property may not stand because the plan must be approved by state Department of Ecology officials.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin supported the amendment, but she said she favors Verner’s veto. That’s because, she said, it allows all the restrictions to be reconsidered.

“I see it as a taking of private property,” McLaughlin said. “There’s been no compelling evidence that the 100-foot buffer hasn’t been adequate.”

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.

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