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Urban growth debate resumes as county commissioners hold state-ordered hearing

Spokane County commissioners got a mixed reaction from the public Tuesday in their attempt to expand the county’s urban growth area in the face of a rejection of the plan by a state review board.

The commissioners approved a 4,100-acre expansion last July, which was rejected in November by the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board after the review board ruled that commissioners made mistakes in projecting future population.

During a new public hearing required by the state, property owners and developers said the urban expansion is needed to provide more room for new housing at affordable prices.

But neighborhood representatives and opponents to urban sprawl said no expansion or a more limited expansion would be better.

Michael Cathcart, director of government affairs for the Spokane Homebuilders Association, said the urban growth boundary puts an artificial constraint on the housing market.

Richard Brooke, president of the Glenrose Association, said the existing urban growth boundary could support 20 years of growth without adding new land to it. The association is one of the appellants against the county.

By not expanding the growth area, Brooke said, “We feel growth will be focused where it belongs.”

He said the proposed expansion is intended to serve development interests.

Kitty Klitzke, of Futurewise, an organization that supports balanced growth policies, said, “As we know, there is a lot of vacant land within the urban growth boundary that needs to be filled first.”

Futurewise is also an appellant in the case. Klitzke said the proposed expansion was based on property owner requests.

Her organization disputes the county’s population projection of 616,000 residents in 2031.

After commissioners approved the expansion, developers and landowners moved quickly to obtain completed building permit applications so that they could “vest” property rights in case an appeal was successful, a practice allowed under state law.

With the state board ruling, development in the disputed growth boundary was placed on hold pending the new public hearing and a subsequent vote by county commissioners to reapprove an expansion.

Stacy Bjordahl, a Spokane land-use attorney, submitted written testimony from clients, including several who had obtained vested rights prior to the hearings board ruling invalidating the commissioners’ expansion, she said.

Pete Rayner, another developer, said existing land within the city is difficult and costly to develop. He said that is why growth patterns historically show that areas outside the city of Spokane have increased in population compared with the city.

But growth opponents said overextension of the urban area places pressure on public resources to provide urban services and reduces the natural beauty of the region.

Shane Dunn, a resident of the Belle Terre neighborhood south of Spokane Valley, said the expansion proposed for his neighborhood will “ruin the heart of Veradale.”

He said the housing market there already shows evidence of overexpansion with unsold homes and foreclosures. Even with the new homes, roads have become very busy, he said.

Commissioners approved a 162-acre expansion there, which was down from a proposal for 452 acres.

“If I had known you were going to put so many houses there, I wouldn’t have moved there,” he said.

Commissioners will resume the public hearing on July 9 before making a decision on whether to reapprove the urban area expansion.

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