Spokane County commissioners explain vote on urban growth area
Spokane County commissioners on Wednesday reaffirmed their rationale for adding about 3,600 acres of land to the county’s urban growth area.
The expansion increases the amount of land where urban-style subdivisions, businesses and industry could be located.
Commissioners approved the expansion in July 2013, but the changes were sent back to them by the state Growth Management Hearings Board on an appeal by a coalition of neighborhood groups. The board found that the county made errors in not allowing enough public participation over population projections.
The commissioners said Wednesday that there are a number of good reasons for adding new land to the county’s urban area.
Among them, Central Valley School District is planning a new high school southeast of Spokane Valley, and the commissioners want to add that area to the urban boundary so sewer lines can be extended to it. State law allows sewer extensions only inside the urban growth area.
Commissioners said they are concerned about septic tank failures in a 1,500-acre area north of Mead along U.S. Highway 2 where subdivisions and commercial areas were built before the county adopted its first growth management law in 2001 in a state-ordered attempt to contain sprawl. The effluent from the septic systems may be sending phosphorus pollution into the Spokane River, they said.
Public water and sewer lines are available or already serve a number of the areas that are proposed for inclusion, including property on Glenrose Prairie adjacent to Spokane’s southeastern city limits.
Overlooked in the debate over expansion is a series of properties that the commissioners want to remove from urban growth area. By far the largest is a 371-acre area along Thorpe Road southwest of Spokane that could accommodate homes for up to 1,718 people. However, the parcels are a mix of sizes ranging from one to 20 acres with homes on them, not raw and open land. The area is near Spokane International Airport.
In other cases, developers took advantage of a loophole in state law that allowed them to file applications to preserve development rights in the months before the first growth management plan took effect in 2001. That same pattern repeated itself last year after commissioners adopted the disputed expansions. Several developers earned “vested rights” for new subdivisions prior to the appeal being filed by the neighborhood coalition.
Commissioner Al French said each of the additions and deletions to the growth area were based on good planning principles.
“To be opposed to this defies logic,” he said.
Spokane City Council members, who are critical of the expansion, have said that allowing more development on the urban fringe takes away new investment from the city and costs the city money to extend public services. They have said the city has a need for more infill development such as the popular Kendall Yards near downtown.
Commissioners said they plan to schedule another public hearing on their proposed urban expansions prior to reapproving the plan.