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County revises zoning request

Plan eases height limits just enough for warehouse

County commissioners lowered their sights Tuesday for a building-height increase aimed at snagging a 1 million-square-foot distribution center.

The potential West Plains warehouse needs to be almost 50 feet tall because of automated storage-and-retrieval equipment, but county light industrial zoning allows only 40 feet.

Eager to accommodate an unnamed company that some insiders say could generate 200 to 300 jobs, commissioners recently asked the county Planning Commission to consider increasing the height limit to 150 feet.

Responding to concerns about unexpected consequences, commissioners decided Tuesday that a 60-foot limit would be adequate. They voted unanimously to lop off the top 90 feet of their original request.

Planning commissioners, who also expressed reservations about the 150-foot limit, will receive the revised proposal in time for deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The proposed 150-foot limit would have matched Spokane’s light-industrial height limit, which will apply to Spokane International Airport land next year when the city annexes it.

But city and state officials feared unexpected consequences from adopting only one facet of the city zoning code.

“Developments within the city’s light industrial zone areas must comply with design standards and other standards designed to mitigate structure height and massive buildings,” city planner Louis Meuler said in a letter to county planning commissioners.

County Planning Director John Pederson said the county also has regulations to mitigate tall buildings.

Also, Pederson said, structure heights near Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base would continue to be strictly limited by an airport “overlay” zone.

He said it is a “subjective opinion” that the county’s overlay zone relies on “outdated development standards that do not protect these essential public facilities” as Meuler stated.

Carter Timmerman, an aviation planner for the state Department of Transportation, agreed that the county’s airport regulations are “not consistent with best management practices.”

Pederson said county officials are “not averse” to adopting the new state airport guidelines – as the Spokane City Council recently did – or even the entire city code for light industrial zones.

County commissioners expressed concern last month that the city’s 150-foot limit might be inappropriate for the aviation-sensitive West Plains.

But commissioners also expressed a desire for matching city and county zoning regulations in the area, and wound up following the city’s lead on height.

Before merging zoning regulations, Pederson said, county leaders want to complete a project to protect Fairchild Air Force Base – and to land the distribution center if that can be done without harming the base or the regional airport.

Pederson and commissioners noted there already is at least one privately owned building on airport property that is about 60 feet tall.

Also, Pederson said, allowing 60-foot buildings in light industrial zones would match the height ceiling on West Plains land zoned for “regional commercial” use.