A cease-fire has been called in Spokane’s growth skirmish, offering a yearlong opportunity for cooler heads to collaborate on smarter ways to manage development within the city and adjacent areas.
Tensions heightened when the Spokane County Commission expanded the urban growth boundary as part of an annual review, then speedily granted building permits to developers. Miffed that it wasn’t consulted, the Spokane City Council voted to block extension of water and sewer services until the urban growth appeals process was completed. Mayor David Condon vetoed the ordinance and called for a new era of partnership between the city and county.
But the plea for cooperation was initially ignored. County Commissioner Al French filed an aggressive public records request with the city, while the City Council worked on overturning the mayor’s veto. Thankfully, city and county leaders have decided that divisiveness is unproductive.
On Tuesday, Mayor David Condon, Council President Ben Stuckart and Commissioners Todd Mielke and Al French announced a series of meetings where thorny growth issues can be discussed. The first meeting is set for May 12, and it’s open to the public.
As a show of cooperation, the commission has agreed to a one-year moratorium on new urban expansion decisions and rescinded its public records request. The City Council has dropped any effort to overturn the mayor’s veto and agreed to avoid annexations for a year.
Those moves should lower the temperature and allow for the kind of productive results the city and county achieved with animal control, garbage collection and criminal justice reforms.
The starting point will be what kind of city the public wants. Spokane would have to stretch out a lot more to match the sprawl of most comparable cities. Dense is smart because service costs can be contained. But the pressures to expand are undeniable and not automatically unwelcome.
The state Growth Management Act is intended to forestall chaotic suburban growth, but the law is not always clear-cut. As a result, changes can be given the green light by counties, overturned by a state hearings board, and then revived by the courts. Meanwhile, the state’s “vesting” law allows developers with the requisite permits to proceed, regardless of how those appeals turn out. Then cities are on the hook for extending services.
But cities are not always the victims. They can cherry-pick tax-rich areas for annexation, making it more difficult for counties to pay for services, primarily the criminal justice system. We’ve recommended the city and county agree to sharing tax revenues from annexed areas so that long-range growth decisions aren’t warped by financial considerations.
The effects of urban growth are widespread, affecting where traffic is funneled, where children attend schools, and whether police and fire can respond in a timely fashion. Wise growth improves economic prospects for everyone.
Turf wars undermine a simple truth: We’re in it together.