November 27, 2013 in City

State nixes expanded Spokane County urban growth area

By The Spokesman-Review
 
What’s next

• The commissioners have until June 4 to reach compliance with state law.

• A compliance hearing is set for July 24.

An expansion to Spokane’s urban growth area was thrown out Tuesday, though that may not keep some development in the expanded area from moving forward.

Spokane County commissioners decided last summer to expand the urban growth area.

But Tuesday the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board ordered the county to fix flaws found in the commissioners’ deliberations over a 4,100-acre expansion of the area where urban density is allowed.

The county failed to conduct public hearings when it expanded its population projections for future growth over the next 28 years, the board said.

The expansion is on the fringes of the existing urban growth area in places such as Mead, the West Plains and southeast Spokane.

Population projections are used to establish the need for expanding the urban area.

Commissioners originally favored a 6,000-acre expansion but backed away from that after opposition from state agency officials.

After commissioners approved the smaller expansion on July 18, a coalition of local advocacy and neighborhood groups and several individuals filed an appeal.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the state commerce and transportation departments to join the appeal in September.

Transportation officials earlier said the commissioners’ urban expansion would trigger a need for highway and street improvements without having money to fund them.

“The importance of the proper sizing of urban areas is a key component of reducing sprawl and limiting the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land,” the hearings board said.

Even while additions to the urban area are under appeal, state law allows developers in those areas to progress through the building application process. Once those applications are complete, the projects are “vested” and may move forward even if the growth boundary is pulled back.

Since approving the expanded growth area, the county held application meetings for urban development on 87 1/2 acres of land in the new growth area, the state hearings board said.

Another application involving 33 1/2 acres was received the same day commissioners approved the expansion. One of the applications involved 232 lots on 39 acres, the board said in its findings.

Kitty Klitzke, of Futurewise, one of the groups appealing the expansion, said the decision will force the county to revisit its plan. Plus, the decision will stop additional developers from getting their projects vested within the expansion area.

“We are very, very pleased,” she said.

Other avenues of appeal are open if commissioners persist in seeking a growth-area expansion next year, she said.

The hearings board gave the county until June to fix the flaws found in its approval process.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said the county has been working on its update of the urban growth area under orders from the state for seven years. In that time, it has held more than two dozen meetings for public input.

“There are some people who would not like us to approve any changes,” he said.

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