Gov. Jay Inslee has stepped into the fight over a July expansion of Spokane County’s urban growth area, including newly designated industrial land near Fairchild Air Force Base.
Inslee said he has directed two state agencies to file an appeal with the Growth Management Hearings Board against the urban expansion by Spokane County commissioners.
The appeal will join an earlier petition to the hearings board by two advocacy organizations and several neighborhood groups challenging the 4,100-acre expansion of the urban growth area.
In a letter to the commissioners Tuesday, Inslee said his greatest concern is creation of new industrial land along the Geiger Spur rail line on the southeast side of Fairchild.
The Democratic governor told the county’s three Republican commissioners that the new industrial land represents a type of encroachment that threatens the future of the air base.
Inslee’s appeal marks an unusual turning of the tables on the county commission, which is usually the agency sounding the alarm over Fairchild encroachment. In fact, the disputed urban expansion comes as county commissioners are asking voters to increase taxes to pay for the purchase and removal of manufactured homes and parks located in the “crash zone” at the northeast end of the Fairchild runway as part of an encroachment-alleviating effort.
“The county’s recent action not only undermines state efforts to remove encroachment, it is contradictory to the county’s efforts to do the very same thing,” Inslee said.
The governor pointed out that he supported a $2.7 million state grant this year to purchase Solar World apartments in Airway Heights next to the manufactured home parks.
Commissioner Al French said the county has led a communitywide effort to enact land-use standards approved by the Air Force for protection of Fairchild.
The county reduced its proposed urban expansion of 1,600 acres there to 1,180 acres, removing the land closest to the runway.
The county has been hoping to draw industrial growth along the rerouted Geiger Spur rail line, which was financed partly with state grants, to protect Fairchild from the security risk of having civilian trains cross the base on its old route.
The commissioners are also appealing to the growth board a zone change in Airway Heights that allows regulated multifamily use on three large parcels farther east of Hayford Road.
“We have done everything we have the statutory ability to do to protect Fairchild,” French said.
He said he was told by base officials that the new county zoning standards meet Air Force concerns.
French said the governor may not have complete information, so the commissioners have asked to meet with Inslee.
Inslee in his letter said he is also concerned that expansion will place an undue burden on taxpayers to finance improvements to roads and other public services serving new development in the expansion area.
The governor also asked the commissioners to halt development applications in the expansion area while the appeals are pending. That would prevent developers from obtaining the legal right to build even if the urban expansion is overturned.
“I applaud the governor getting involved,” said Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, a leading critic of county urban expansion.
He said that one developer has already gotten county approval for a 105-lot subdivision known as Twisted Willows near 42nd Avenue and Havana Street.
Snyder said that plat can now be built regardless of what the growth board decides on the appeals.
He complained that Twisted Willows uses a single access street and will add traffic to the adjacent Havana Street, which is not built to handle the increase.
Snyder said development on the urban fringe adds to sprawl, which city taxpayers will be forced to subsidize with public improvements and services.
The commissioners initially voted for a 6,000-acre expansion of the urban growth area in April, but reduced that to 4,100 acres following negotiations with a growth management official in the state’s Commerce Department.
The state’s appeal will involve its departments of commerce and transportation.
Transportation officials earlier said the urban expansion will likely trigger a need for highway and street improvements and that there is no funding available for that work.
Rich Eichstaedt, attorney for the Center for Justice, which is also appealing the expansion, said he finds it “ironic” that the county is seeking money from voters to reduce residential encroachment near Fairchild at the same time it is being challenged for industrial zone expansion nearby.