Spokane County commissioners took steps Wednesday to justify their attempt to expand areas of the county where urban-style growth is allowed.
Commissioners last July approved a 4,100-acre expansion of the areas where housing tracts and commercial uses are allowed, but the expansion was remanded back to commissioners on an appeal to the state by opponents.
Now, the commissioners are responding to the concerns of the state Growth Management Hearings Board, which ruled that the plan lacked adequate public testimony.
Commissioners in June reopened the growth expansion to public comment and continued the comment session on Wednesday.
Laura Ackerman, representing the Lands Council in Spokane, told commissioners the urban area has plenty of undeveloped or vacant land to handle growth for the next 20 years, a pattern that would be preferable over expansion on the urban fringe.
She showed commissioners numerous photos of those sites. “There are lots of places in the city that are vacant,” she said. “You get my idea why we don’t want the urban growth area expanded.”
In an email after the hearing, Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the Spokane Homebuilders Association, said many vacant lots are not for sale, are poorly located or have environmental or geological problems.
Commissioner Al French during the hearing cited a national study that showed that Spokane County is not suffering from urban sprawl as much as many other communities.
“Sprawl is not our problem,” he said.
French said the city of Spokane failed to meet its population projections by nearly 15,000 residents, meaning the city is not attracting growth while other areas of the county are.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said there were a number of good reasons for adding 21 locations to the urban growth area when commissioners voted last July.
Mead and Central Valley school districts own property for school expansion just outside the boundary and would have to build costly on-site treatment systems since sewers can only be extended within the urban boundary.
In addition, housing tracts near Mount Spokane Park Drive were built on septic tanks, which are leaching pollution into a tributary of the Little Spokane River. Adding the area to the growth boundary would allow those homes to be hooked to sewers, he said.
Commissioners approved a motion asking the county planning department to prepare a document that shows how the 21 parcels in the growth expansion meet 13 goals established in the state’s growth law.
Previous to the hearing board’s ruling that the commissioner’s expansion needed more public input, the 4,100-acre expansion was reduced to about 3,600 acres to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from industrial encroachment on its runway paths.
A workshop is set for July 31 to study the requested document. Additional public testimony will be sought after that, French said.