Spokane’s former chief operating officer suggested Monday that the city and state used “Chicago-style politics” in the creation of shoreline protections that would restrict development along part of his property near Latah Creek.
John Pilcher, who served under former Mayor Dennis Hession as the city’s top non-elected official, accused the state Ecology Department and the city of Spokane of delaying some decisions about shoreline rules until the new City Council took office in January.
The accusation angered Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan, who suggested that Pilcher may have improperly used his connections in city government to try to win an exception to the shoreline rules that others must follow.
The debate about Pilcher’s property was one of a few remaining issues left in a long effort to update development rules along the Spokane River and Latah Creek. State law requires cities and counties to update rules so that there’s no net loss of “ecological function” along waterways.
Spokane is the first of Washington’s five largest cities to win state approval for a shoreline update.
The Spokane City Council first approved the plan in 2008. The state objected to portions of that plan, including the decision to lower the development buffer along a 900-foot section of Pilcher’s property from a proposed 200 feet to a less-restrictive 100-foot standard.
City Councilman Steve Corker said the state missed a deadline to express its concerns but that delay did not constitute “Chicago-style politics.”
“I don’t like the questioning of motives that I’ve seen tonight,” Corker said. “Their motives are that they are placed in a position of responsibility and they’re trying to do what’s right.”
Doug Pineo, a state shorelines specialist, noted that Pilcher was lobbying City Council members as late as last Friday. He said delays were the result of working to find compromises.
“It’s hard, complicated work,” Pineo said.
Councilman Richard Rush said rules governing Pilcher’s land, some of which is in the flood plain, are about more than habitat.
“It’s a matter of protecting the public investment and the private investment in this land for future generations,” Rush said.
Another change approved by the council will ensure that the Centennial Trail can be expanded close to the Spokane River. The state earlier had ruled that the city could not build trails parallel to the river within 200 feet of shorelines in a natural condition.
That concerned some council members who argued that the rule could endanger completion of the popular recreational trail. A compromise allows for a parallel trail if it uses land such as abandoned rail lines. The rule also would limit the width of the path to 10 feet.
Council members Bob Apple and Nancy McLaughlin voted against some or most of the shoreline rules Monday night. McLaughlin called the 200-foot buffer on Pilcher’s property and on others “arbitrary” and said they “infringe on private property rights.”