The Spokane River runs through the city of Spokane Valley for miles, but relatively little property will be affected by the new regulations the city is considering as part of an update to the Shoreline Master Program.
Most of the shoreline, including the Centennial Trail, is owned by the state. The new rules would primarily apply to new construction and there are only 28.12 acres of vacant commercial and industrial land spread among five property owners. The largest owner, Centennial Properties, is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
The primary owners of vacant residential land along the river are Neighborhood Inc. and Inland Empire Paper, which is also owned by Cowles Co. Neighborhood Inc. is developing Coyote Rock downstream of Plantes Ferry Park.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for new subdivisions in here,” said Spokane Valley Community Development Director John Hohman during a joint meeting Tuesday with the City Council and the planning commission.
Having so few properties affected by the rules that govern development within 200 feet of the river’s ordinary high water mark allows the city to tailor its shoreline plan, Hohman said. “We do have a very unique ability here to define our impact on private property owners,” he said.
Docks will also be regulated by the plan. “The installation of those docks does in fact modify the shorelines,” said senior planner Lori Barlow. The city routinely awards an exemption for docks valued at less than $10,000 for single family homes. Homeowners also have to get permits from the Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Docks would not be allowed in areas classified as urban conservancy-high quality and would require a conditional use permit in areas designated as urban conservancy. “It’s an environment we want to protect because of its high quality,” she said. “We still have the zoning regulations in place. Just because it says it might be allowed doesn’t mean it will be.”
No construction of any kind would be allowed within a shoreline buffer that ranges from 50 feet to 200 feet wide depending on the location. “The buffer that’s being proposed here is a refined and sophisticated approach,” said attorney Tadas Kisielius. “Most jurisdictions just have a set number for each environment. It’s designed to recognize existing development patterns.”
A sticking point in some cities has been public access being required on private property. Under the city’s plan, which must be approved by the state Department of Ecology, requiring public access would only be triggered if the project will interfere with existing access or if it creates more demand for access.
“We want to ensure that residential development and commercial development can take place in the shoreline jurisdiction,” Barlow said.
Planning commissioner Steven Neill asked if people could protect an outbuilding from erosion. That would only be allowed if a home or business is threatened, Barlow said, not something like a garage or storage shed. “New stabilization measures have to have a conditional use permit,” she said. People would be allowed to repair or replace existing stabilization measures, such as a bulkhead, by applying for a substantial shoreline development permit.
In most areas along the river in Spokane Valley such erosion isn’t a problem, Barlow said. Most homes are separated from the river by the Centennial Trail or state park land, she said. “I think we’re talking about a situation that is very unlikely in our environment.”