Citing concerns about the region’s economic health, Spokane Mayor David Condon vetoed a contentious City Council plan Monday that relies on new utility restrictions to thwart improper sprawl outside city limits.
It marked the first mayoral veto of Condon’s term and sets up a potential City Council scramble to find an unlikely fifth vote among the council’s three most conservative members to override it.
“It would introduce too much uncertainty into our area’s economic growth and planning,” said Condon, who was heavily lobbied by developers and contractors opposed to the plan but also met with groups supporting it. He said he reluctantly decided to exercise his veto power. The mayor pledged to work with Spokane County commissioners to develop a better way to coordinate regional growth.
Under the plan, which was pushed by Councilman Jon Snyder and approved March 17 on a 4-2 vote, city water and sewer service extensions into potentially contested new urban growth areas outside city limits would be prohibited until any legal challenges are resolved. It’s intended to block what many see as a loophole in state law that allows developers to obtain permits that must be honored even when legal challenges prevail in establishing that the zoning change was improper.
Several developments on Spokane’s outskirts have taken advantage of the loophole, which Snyder and others say forces the city to extend costly services to new urban growth areas approved by county commissioners rather than tend to the infrastructure needs of existing residents.
The City Council plan was rolled out after the County Commission’s approval last year of a 4,100-acre expansion of the boundaries where residential and commercial development is allowed in outlying areas. That expansion was ruled improper by a state board because it lacked sufficient public hearings and drew the ire of Gov. Jay Inslee, who directed two state agencies to work with groups opposing the expansion.
Condon opposed the size of the county’s latest urban growth expansion but said restricting utilities is the wrong approach. He said he’s working with Spokane County commissioners to develop a more coordinated approach to growth, and would prefer finding ways to encourage developers to build within the city rather than forcing them to do so with regulatory authority.
Snyder and others said the cost of extending urban services to new growth areas is estimated at $64 million, not counting transportation upgrades.
Snyder said the county’s expansion of the urban growth area in 2013 led to an “unfortunate outcome of prioritizing these new development projects over infrastructure needs for current water and sewer customers.”
One of the areas under contention is a 109-lot subdivision known as Twisted Willows, which has only one access point at Custer Street and 42nd Avenue in southeast Spokane. It would send hundreds, if not thousands, of daily vehicle trips onto a substandard Havana Street, an old two-lane roadway.
Snyder said fixing Havana to handle higher traffic will cost more than $1 million.
“Nobody is anti-growth or anti-development, but where’s the balance?” Snyder said.
The Spokane Home Builders Association hailed Condon’s announcement.
“The ordinance was legally questionable to begin with, was rushed through to a vote of the Council with no public participation, and no studies were conducted on how its implementation would impact housing affordability or business recruitment in our region,” the association said in a news release.