A group of Liberty Lake neighbors is fearful that a hearing before Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday will allow a property owner on the shore of Liberty Lake to develop his property despite the fact that an appeal of the project is waiting to be heard.
In December, commissioners gave permission for the Lancaster family to subdivide and develop a 3.6-acre parcel at 24024 E. Lakeridge Drive. The family filed an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan to change the property’s zoning from rural traditional to limited development area residential. When Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke voted to approve the zone change, they stipulated that a development agreement limiting the site to five lots or less be negotiated. There is already one home on the property.
The group Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Excess, led by Steve Shirley, filed an appeal of the commissioner’s decision with the Growth Management Hearing Board, but it likely won’t be heard until July.
The entire north shore of Liberty Lake was zoned rural traditional when the Growth Management Act took effect, even though it is already developed, because neighbors wanted to limit growth to preserve water quality, which has been improving in recent years.
Gary Lancaster has filed a proposed development with the county and that has neighbors worried. “There is a legal loophole in the Growth Management Act,” said Shirley. “While we’re waiting on the docket at the Hearing Board they can race to get in on the (county commission) agenda. This is an end-run around the Growth Management Act. This is an end-run around the process the community was told this would take.”
Lancaster said he is just following the protocol he was told to follow when the commissioners approved his zone change. He said he sent a proposed development agreement to the commissioners in January, then got a letter back from District Attorney Dave Hubert suggesting changes. He made the changes and sent the most recent version of the agreement back in March.
But Lancaster acknowledges that if the development agreement is approved he can develop his property no matter what the Hearing Board decides. “That’s apparently a common thing that happens. That kind of conflict does occur,” he said.
Lancaster said there are only a few vocal opponents of his project. “The rest of the neighborhood is in our favor,” he said. “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.”
Shirley said the issue is not so much the subdivision of the land but that the move may allow other property owners in the area to follow suit. “That sets a precedent for parcels both on and next to the lake,” he said.
Shirley is not alone in his concerns. The Spokane County Planning Commission recommended the zone change be denied because it would “set a negative precedent for rural areas that would be inconsistent with the goals and policies for rural areas per the Comprehensive Plan.”
Shirley is also upset that neighbors weren’t notified that the issue would be on the county commission agenda. Shirley said his wife just happened to find it on the county’s website. “That was a little disturbing for us,” he said. “We were told by John Peterson, the planning director, that the county wasn’t going to take any action on this pending the decision by the Hearing Board. Then all the sudden we find out that they are.”
Shirley said Commissioner Bonnie Mager was not aware that the issue was on the agenda until his wife called her. “It miraculously appeared on the agenda when she was out of town on vacation,” he said. “The last time Richard and Mielke got together when Bonnie wasn’t there they bought us a race track.”