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Fri., March 1, 2013

Editorial: Minimal expansion of boundaries warranted

If Spokane County’s Urban Growth Area boundaries need to be redrawn, the work should be done with a fine-point pen, not a paintbrush. The county commissioners are using paint, especially on the West Plains and in the Mead area.

The Spokane City Council expressed concerns about the direction the county was taking in December 2011. Wednesday, Mayor David Condon, Council President Ben Stuckart and members Amber Waldref and Jon Snyder restated the city’s fundamental complaint: The county assumes population growth that exceeds projections from the Washington Office of Financial Management.

The state Department of Commerce regional head of growth management services makes the same argument: The existing boundaries will accommodate another 117,000 people, 4,200 more than projected population growth over the next 20 years. The most expansive county plan assumes more than 130,000 new residents; the recommended option, 127,000.

The plans also provide for as many as 2,000 acres in new commercial and industrial space – in an already oversaturated market.

Landowners and developers want the recommended plan adopted. If their property is not included in the redrawn boundaries, they cannot get the sewer service that will allow them to subdivide. They may not get another chance at inclusion for years.

Some areas would be retrofits. Subdivisions carved out before growth planning was instituted in 1990 have septic systems that will begin failing within a few years. Homeowners face uncertain futures without sewers, or space for new septic fields.

School sites purchased with the expectation future growth area adjustments would bring sewers to the properties face a similar dilemma.

But growth management was instituted to discourage sprawl that requires expensive expansions of sewers, water lines and roads, often despite the expectation taxes and fees from newly served areas might never fully repay the costs. To offset some of the financial impact, Spokane and other jurisdictions imposed fees on new lots, levies strongly opposed by developers who have to increase prices in response.

Spokane County itself bears little of the direct costs, but does stand to collect additional property and sales taxes from new residential and commercial development, particularly along U.S. Highway 2 north of the city. The bills go to the school, water and sewer districts, or the municipalities.

The estimated tab over the next 20 years is about $900 million, mostly for schools. Admittedly, some of that new construction or expansion would be necessary anyway to accommodate students whether they live in a new growth area or in subdivisions within the existing boundaries.

But the cost figures omit other infrastructure; sewer, water, etc.

Spokane County will look different in 20 years. It should look like an area designed to deliver services as efficiently as possible. The only plan under consideration that meets that criteria is the one that concentrates development with the existing growth area boundaries. With a pen, areas where sewer and water are already at the doorstep might be drawn in. That’s all.

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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