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Board rejects appeal of shoreline rule

Spokane’s new stricter building regulations along the Spokane River and Latah Creek remain intact after a state board rejected a challenge by the city’s former top administrator.

John Pilcher, who served as Spokane’s chief operating officer under Mayor Dennis Hession, challenged the city’s new rules in the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The board ruled in the city’s favor in March and Pilcher did not ask for reconsideration. He could still appeal the decision in court. His attorney, Taudd Hume, said Pilcher is assessing his “legal alternatives.”

The rules, which were finalized in July, aim to protect wildlife and “channel migration zones” – areas where a river may naturally shift.

Pilcher, the chief executive officer of the Spokane Club, owns about 45 acres on the east bank of Latah Creek just across from U.S. Highway 195 and Cheney-Spokane Road.

State Department of Ecology officials, who approved Spokane’s shoreline rules, say a 200-foot buffer from the creek preventing development is needed because the creek’s channel often meanders and surrounding land is prone to flooding. Further, they say that if Pilcher builds within that area, he might need to strengthen the bank in a way that could force the water to move faster and harm wildlife inside and outside the waterway.

“The stream bank is still at risk and subject to channel movement,” said Sara Hunt, who oversees the shoreline program for the ecology department’s Eastern Washington office.

But Pilcher argues that the buffers were “arbitrary” and that the bank along his property has been altered over the years by the construction of a bridge and concrete demolition debris placed along the shore. He argues that changes made to the property prevent the creek from shifting.

“Channel migration zones are going to have huge impacts on municipalities throughout the state, and other jurisdictions are currently concerned with the positions that (the state Department of) Ecology is taking,” Hume said in a written statement. “We were hoping to help define the scope of Ecology’s authority.”

Spokane approved new shoreline rules in 2008 that expanded shoreline buffers up to 200 feet in some locations. The state recommended the 200-foot buffer along the creek throughout Pilcher’s land, but at Pilcher’s request the council voted to keep the buffer at 100 feet along about 40 percent of his shoreline. The council reversed course in 2010 and adopted the state’s recommendation.

Before the stricter rules were finalized, Pilcher submitted plans to build an 88-home development on his acreage – thus vesting plans under the former 100-foot buffer.