Regulations that could block improvements to the Centennial Trail may get the boot.
The Spokane County Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing Jan. 27 on an amendment to the county Critical Areas Ordinance to make more room for public trails.
If approved by the commission and county commissioners, the amendment would allow public pedestrian, bicycle and bridle trails as close as 50 feet to streams. They could be no wider than 14 feet.
Currently, the ordinance relegates public trails to the outer one-fourth of a 250-foot buffer – 187 1/2 feet from the high-water mark. Much of the Centennial Trail is 50 feet or less from the shoreline.
That could interfere with possible realignments of the Centennial Trail to cross a road at the Appleway Bridge near the Idaho border and to move it away from a busy roadway north of Millwood.
The amendment, proposed by the county planning staff, was endorsed by the Friends of the Centennial Trail. The organization noted that, in addition to safety realignments, portions of the trail still haven’t been built.
“The Spokane community would reap many benefits,” said Friends executive director Kaye Turner. “… The Centennial Trail has shown it buffers the shoreline from development, allowing wildlife and native plants to thrive.”
Some groups argue, though, that the amendment should apply only to the Centennial Trail.
“That’s just way too broad-brush of an approach just to accommodate the Centennial Trail,” said Kitty Klitzke, Eastern Washington program director for Futurewise, a statewide planning and environmental organization.
Center for Justice attorney Rick Eichstaedt said the center’s Spokane Riverkeeper program is concerned that “suddenly we’re going to see lots of other trails pop up and want to use these provisions.”
He and Klitzke cited the proposed Riverview “master planned resort” on the north bank of the Spokane River just across the state line from the Cabela’s sporting goods store in Post Falls. Proponents sought a conditional use permit last week in a hearing before Spokane County Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey.
The resort developers, Alan Johnson of Coeur d’Alene and Southern California resident Fernando Dutra, want to build trails that would allow their customers to walk to Cabela’s and the new Appleway Bridge, which will have a pedestrian lane that connects with the Centennial Trail.
Although the Critical Areas Ordinance keeps public trails well back from the river, it places no such restriction on private, pedestrian-only trails.
Johnson and Dutra are satisfied with the provisions for private trails, according to their attorney, F.J. “Rick” Dullanty Jr. But the county planning staff contends the resort would have to meet the public standards.
Dullanty said the developers would like to grant access to the public, including kayakers who use the nearby Dead Dog Hole whitewater. However, he thinks the planning staff is wrong about the project’s ineligibility for private-trails standards.
Dempsey likely will address that issue, Dullanty said.
Both the private and public trail standards in the Critical Areas Ordinance limit trails to 5 feet in width and permeable surfaces unless pavement is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Spokane County Planning Director John Pederson said the amendment would make the trails provisions “very similar” to the way they were before the ordinance was updated in 2008.
A variation of the amendment that would have subjected public trails to a “habitat management plan” has been taken off the table, but Pederson said the proposal is “a work in progress” that could change again.
The county’s Shoreline Master Program, which is much older than the Critical Areas Ordinance, is silent about waterfront trail standards. However, one of the shoreline program’s primary goals is to preserve public access to shorelines.
It says “access to and along the waterfront shall be provided for pedestrians and bicycles where appropriate and where the biophysical capabilities allow such uses.”
County commissioners adopted a new shoreline plan last May, but the old plan remains in force because the state Department of Ecology hasn’t yet approved the new one.
The new plan calls for a 200-foot buffer along shorelines and would allow no development within 50 feet of the high-water mark.
Eventually, the new plan and the Critical Areas Ordinance will have to be reconciled and combined. Meanwhile, Pederson said, the Critical Areas Ordinance trumps the shoreline plan wherever the ordinance is more restrictive.