A group of progressive organizations is trying to block urban sprawl by appealing changes to Spokane County’s urban growth area. Spokane County commissioners in July voted to add nearly 4,000 acres to areas where urban development is allowed. That expansion is about a third smaller than what was first proposed to commissioners this year.
Last week, the coalition asked a Spokane County Superior Court judge to delay enactment of the growth boundary expansion pending the appeal.
The judge rejected the motion for a stay, which was sought to prevent landowners in the new urban areas from gaining “vesting rights” for development projects prior to completion of the appeal.
The group wanted to prevent new vesting while the hearings board decides on the appeal, which could take up to six months, said Rick Eichstaedt, executive director and attorney for the Center for Justice.
The appeal questions the commissioners’ projections for population growth, protection of sensitive environments known as critical areas, and the need for roads, utilities and schools to support the wider urban area.
Eichstaedt said the boundary expansion simply promotes undesirable urban sprawl while the state’s growth management law seeks to focus growth in already-developed areas.
“They are going to continue to make the problem worse,” he said.
Commissioners said the expansion was needed to create more industrial land for ongoing efforts to expand aerospace, warehousing and other light industrial uses near Spokane International Airport.
Another reason for expansion was to open land in the Mead and Central Valley school districts for future schools.
The commissioners also argued that areas brought into the urban boundary had won development rights more than a decade ago when the growth management law was implemented in Spokane County.
Along with Futurewise and the Center for Justice, the neighborhood organizations appealing include the Five Mile Prairie Neighborhood Association, Southgate Neighborhood Council, Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County and the Glenrose Association. Paul Kropp, Larry Kunz and Dan Henderson are also part of the group appealing.
The neighborhood groups that joined the appeal have been fighting developers for years over urban sprawl into their parts of the county.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said that the board of commissioners received a letter from the 3rd District’s legislators urging the commission to postpone any project applications in the newly approved urban area until the appeal is decided.
The commissioners are not going to hold up applications, he said. The commissioners could face lawsuits from property owners for not allowing them to exercise development rights, he said.
“You never walk away with all parties happy,” Mielke said. “I think we are doing the best we can with all the advice we are given.”