Local news

Mead-area housing plan rules out kids

School district cites loophole that could result in enrollment impact

School-age children would be banned from living in a 415-acre development under a proposal Spokane County commissioners will consider Tuesday.

A covenant running with the Mead-area land would limit residential development to a “continuing-care retirement community” to protect the Mead School District.

School officials worry, though, that developers could still force the district to build a new school without helping pay for it.

The project would be on undeveloped Kaiser Aluminum property north of the company’s abandoned smelter on Hawthorne Road. Completion could take decades.

The parcel is bounded by Newport Highway on the west, the North Spokane Corridor on the east and Farwell Road on the north. The Mead School District headquarters is on the other side of Farwell.

As a condition of comprehensive plan and zoning changes to allow residential uses, Kaiser must mitigate the effects of its development on the school district.

Planning officials ordered compensation to the school district, based on the overall size of the project, in the course of a state-required environmental review.

When mitigation discussions between the company and the district began in 2004, the district estimated that 1,019 students would be generated by the 1,698 new homes contemplated at the time.

With the district’s current enrollment of 9,334, adding a thousand students would boost enrollment almost 11 percent.

John Dormaier, the district’s director of facilities and planning, said about 510 of the new students could be in elementary grades, and a typical grade school enrolls 550. So the district asked Kaiser to donate land for a new school.

The district wanted 30 acres, enough for a middle school in case that’s what was needed. Eventually, Dormaier said, the district offered to pay for half of the land, but no agreement could be reached on where to put the school.

Instead, the parties decided to solve the problem by prohibiting school-age children from living in the development.

Dormaier said district officials are willing to negotiate different mitigation in the future, but have “heartburn” over a clause that could strip away their leverage.

The paragraph that prohibits children goes on to say the deal “may be unilaterally amended by the developer through application for a site-specific zone reclassification.”

The problem is that commissioners haven’t authorized their hearing examiner to impose mitigation on “site-specific” proposals, Dormaier said. Kaiser could sell lots to individual developers who might eliminate the no-kids covenant piece by seemingly insignificant piece.

He cited seven plats that created 638 homes near the district’s Midway Elementary School. Even in the final plat, which added 198 homes, the county hearing examiner said he was powerless to require mitigation.

No Kaiser spokesman was available for comment Friday, but County Commissioner Mark Richard said he thought the no-kids covenant would stay in place unless commissioners lifted it.

Richard predicted commissioners will approve the agreement Tuesday. He said he appreciates school officials’ concern, but he’s “not comfortable” with further delay.

As currently proposed, the project would include about 84 acres of light-industrial development along its southern edge and 331 acres of mixed commercial and residential uses.

County officials estimate the development would include 116 acres of housing.

“It’s one of the few remaining parcels of land in the unincorporated county where the county can nurture economic development,” Richard said. “I’m not willing to risk such a rare opportunity.”

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