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Sun., July 7, 2013, midnight

Editorial: Development opponents must prove their case

Nostalgia, and concern for a unique method of setting stone, should not be allowed to freeze a plot of the West Plains in time. The Spokane City/County Historic Landmarks Commission is misguided in trying to do so.

Members unanimously recommended that a light-industrial facility not be permitted because the adjacent property is occupied by the 1905 Sarsfield Farmhouse, with its first floor cleverly constructed using a “blind mortar” technique. The same couple has occupied the home for 32 years. Everyone can understand their attachment to the place where they raised a family.

But the surrounding area has changed greatly over those three decades. A nice home is directly across Thorpe Road, but a lot full of shattered mobile homes and other junk is just to its east, and a beverage business, wheelchair supplier and door company fill out most of the rest of that frontage down to Grove Road.

The acreage around the home is open, but the occupants now own only 11 acres of what was once a 50-acre dairy, the county’s first. Wemco wants to build a new light-manufacturing plant to the east, and Odom Corp. an expanded distribution plant to the west. It is the Wemco factory the landmarks commission says should not be built without significant environmental mitigation.

Members are overreaching. Stopping development on one land parcel because of speculative damage from activity next door sets a worrisome precedent, however sympathetic the circumstances or historic the long-gone dairy.

The number of city and county residents who feel themselves wronged by zoning or permitting decisions on adjacent or nearby property must run into the thousands. But no neighborhood, urban or rural, is immune from change. The trick is to manage the process thoughtfully.

An expectation that open land less than half a mile from the Grove Road Interstate 90 on-ramps lie fallow is unrealistic, to put it mildly.

The Rouse family, which owns Wemco, has also owned the Thorpe property since 1934. It was rezoned in 2004 with the understanding the effects on the farmhouse would have to be considered. To minimize the impact of its facility, Wemco has agreed to a wider setback and will construct the building at a 45-degree angle to allow for a bigger landscaping buffer. A compaction study was done to test the potential for vibration that might disturb the next-door home’s stonework.

Odom will provide required safeguards for ground and stormwater, and improvements to Thorpe.

Development has long since leapfrogged Grove. Witness what has happened at the Medical Lake Interchange. By some lights, the Wemco and Odom projects might be considered infilling. Both represent expansions by existing businesses, the kind the community can be most confident will be around for the long term.

The Thorpe residence cannot be preserved in a bubble of open land, its “historic context,” according to the commission. Most of that land is owned by others, and all of it has significant commercial value. If a vibration test has, or can, show the farmhouse would be unharmed, Wemco should be allowed to go forward.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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