May 21, 2009 in City

Panel backs some changes in rural housing

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane County Planning Commission recommended some changes Thursday to the rules covering housing developments in rural parts of the county but deadlocked over one of the hottest topics.

The commission split 2-2 on whether to bar so-called cluster development in areas zoned for “small-tract agricultural” use, such as Green Bluff. It had the same split on a proposal to require conservation easements, which would essentially bar later development, on open space that is used to calculate the number of homes that can be built in a cluster on a tract of land.

At a hearing last week, residents of Green Bluff urged the commission to ban cluster development from areas in the county set aside for small farms. The developments increase traffic, and some people move to a rural area but expect urban services or complain about noise, dust or odors from farming, they said.

But commission Chairman Doug Kelley argued against closing off cluster development in all small farming zones around the county, saying the issue “is bigger than just Green Bluff.”

The commission agreed to recommend a doubling of the minimum lot size, to two acres, for homes in the clusters and a new formula for determining how many homes can be built on a tract that has a combination of buildable and unbuildable land. The formula would significantly reduce the maximum number of houses now allowed in such cases, but it would give a developer some credit for property in a floodplain or wetland.

The recommendations go to the Spokane County commissioners, who have the final say. They can accept or reject the Planning Commission’s recommendations, but if they want to make changes, they’ll have to hold a public hearing.

Commissioner Mike Schmitz argued against several restrictions, saying they would make projects more difficult and costly: “You should keep as many tools in the bag as you possibly can.”

But Commissioner Joyce McNamee said residents who attended meetings clearly wanted restrictions on rural development.

Among the recommendations:

•Structures must be at least 100 feet from the boundaries of the development. The county has no setback requirements for clusters.

•Keep the existing rules to maximize shoreline access for rural property along lakes and rivers.

•Define the uses for the open space in a development to agriculture, forestry or wildlife habitat.

•Don’t require a wildfire protection plan to be approved by the district fire chief and fire fuels cleared before a development plan is approved.


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