Spokane County commissioners backtracked Tuesday on an aggressive plan to expand the county’s urban growth area.
They voted unanimously to remove nearly 2,000 acres from their previous proposal to add nearly 6,000 acres to the urban growth area.
Opponents to a larger urban footprint, including Spokane City Council members, had argued that the Spokane area has plenty of vacant land in the existing urban growth area, so that an expansion is unneeded and would work against efforts to stimulate urban infill development.
The commissioners’ previous plan also was opposed by state Department of Commerce officials overseeing implementation of the state’s growth management law, which is intended to curb urban sprawl.
When Spokane came under the law in 2001, some land already approved for urban development had been left outside of the urban growth area.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said the reductions were intended to limit the boundary expansion to include areas that had already won urban development rights more than a decade ago.
“We want to true up the map,” said Commissioner Al French.
Commissioners said some areas are being added to the urban growth area to make room for industrial expansion or to make better use of public utility extensions.
They also said they were expanding the boundary to take in future new school sites in the Mead and Central Valley school districts so those sites could be served by public utilities allowed only in the urban growth area.
Commissioners said they are planning for a county population of 616,500 by 2031. The state requires periodic updates of the county’s growth law.
Rick Eichstaedt, an attorney for the Center for Justice, said Tuesday’s vote was encouraging because it reduces the amount of land that could be taken up by urban sprawl.
“I think they are heading in the right direction,” he said.
The commissioners may face legal challenges to the expansion. Eichstaedt said his group won’t decide whether to appeal until the proposal is finalized by the county.
Among the changes approved Tuesday:
• Commissioners voted to remove a 332-acre rural area between Farwell Road and U.S. Highway 2 west of Market Street.
• They reduced an urban designation on the southwest corner of Bigelow Gulch and Argonne roads from 147 to 38 acres.
• Near Spokane Valley, the urban expansion at the Highland Estates development was reduced from 398 to 147 acres.
• More than 220 acres of land near a future Central Valley high school site southeast of Spokane Valley was removed from the proposal. The school site would still become part of the urban area.
• Urban expansion in the Belle Terre development area was cut from 452 to 162 acres.
• An expansion on Moran Prairie was reduced by 78 acres.
• Urban expansion for industrial use near Airway Heights and the Geiger rail spur was trimmed from 1,600 acres to 1,180 acres.