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Trailside development needs rule change

A broken real estate sign swings in the rain at Coyote Rock development on Monday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
A broken real estate sign swings in the rain at Coyote Rock development on Monday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Stalled on shoreline restrictions

The long stalled Trailside development at Coyote Rock would be given the green light under new shoreline development rules being considered by Spokane Valley.

The city is drafting new development regulations as part of a state-mandated update of its Shoreline Master Program. The new regulations would decrease the buffer in the area of the Trailside development from 200 feet from the ordinary high water mark to 50 feet.

The area in question is located just east of the Centennial Trail footbridge over the Spokane River, downstream from Plantes Ferry Park. Developer Cliff Mort, owner of Coeur d’Alene-based Neighborhood Inc., had proposed homes between the Centennial Trail and a new road.

The project stalled in 2011 after the state Department of Ecology challenged the ordinary high water mark Mort was using, saying the line should be significantly more landward than Mort placed it. The Spokane Valley hearing examiner sided with the state, which put most of the home parcels inside the 200 foot buffer.

“There wasn’t enough room to build anything,” said Spokane Valley Community Development Director John Hohman.

The city has proposed changing the designation for that narrow area to shoreline residential-upland, which only requires a 50-foot buffer. There is “lush” vegetation between the Centennial Trail and the river in that area, Hohman said. “Upland of the trail there isn’t much vegetation,” he said. “There really isn’t anything to protect on the other side of the trail.”

Hohman said the change was made because the city is trying to make use of an extremely detailed survey of shoreline conditions. Staff is trying to set a buffer based on conditions on the ground rather than just setting an arbitrary number based only on the environment classification, he said. “Honestly we didn’t really do this specifically for this project,” Hohman said. “We were trying to take this approach to the entire length of the river in our jurisdiction.”

Mort did not respond to requests for comment.

The draft regulations could still change. There is a public hearing and an open house scheduled for July, then the rules must be approved by the city’s planning commission and the City Council. The final say, however, rests with the state.

The city’s approach to setting buffers is unusual, and there are some questions about how it would be implemented, said DOE shoreline planner Jaime Short. “I don’t have a clear handle on how they plan to address the buffer scheme,” she said.

Other cities set standardized buffers based on classification, she said. “It’s a cool idea, going off the inventory,” she said. “It looks like it has some real potential. We’re just looking to understand how an individual property owner would understand how the buffer applies to them. We just don’t quite get it yet.”