Local news

Break meant to help construction industry

Change in law adds two years to vesting

Developers may lock up subdivision rights longer under a temporary change in state law that took effect June 10.

The amendment extends the “vesting” periods in which developers may press ahead with their projects regardless of changes in regulations.

Five-year periods to obtain final plan approval and to build approved subdivisions each have been extended to seven years.

But the deal turns into a pumpkin on Dec. 31, 2014. After that, the old five-year limits will be restored for new projects.

The extensions apply to “preliminary subdivisions, large lot subdivisions, short subdivisions and binding site plans.”

County officials are moving to incorporate the change into their zoning ordinance, but it’s just a housekeeping measure. The state law overrides local rules.

“I think it’s always good policy to be consistent,” Planning Director John Pederson said.

The temporary change in state law is intended to help developers weather the recession. An early draft said the measure would promote “family wage” construction jobs.

Planners say the primary benefit to developers is in the two-year extension of vesting rights from approval of preliminary subdivision plans – not the vesting period that follows approval of final plans.

That’s because costly utilities typically must be installed before final plans are approved.

The city of Spokane requires developers to install water and sewer lines and provide financial guarantees that streets and storm water systems will be built, according to planner Tami Palmquist.

Once a final plan is approved, the platted lots are permanent. The vesting period for construction of approved plans is relevant mainly for subdivisions where the zoning changes after plans are approved.

For example, if a developer got approval to build duplexes, and then the zoning changed to allow only single-family houses, the developer would have seven years to build the duplexes before having to switch to houses.

“It’s not a circumstance that we’ve seen very often,” said Spokane Valley Planning Manager Scott Kuhta.

However, state law allows local governments to grant additional extensions of their own.

Under the Spokane County zoning ordinance for unincorporated areas, Pederson may grant a three-year extension and subsequent one-year extensions under certain circumstances.

New conditions may be imposed when a local extension is granted.

Kuhta said Spokane Valley officials have no immediate plans to amend their zoning ordinance to match the state change.

When the county Planning Commission meets again Thursday, members are to put finishing touches on their unanimous recommendation to update the county ordinance.

Pederson said county commissioners will receive the recommendation before the end of the year.

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