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Groups lobby to veto anti-sprawl vote

A lobbying push is underway to persuade Spokane Mayor David Condon to veto a contentious anti-sprawl ordinance approved this week by a divided City Council.

The Spokane Homebuilders Association, which was among several business groups that urged the measure’s defeat, is leading the drive. It would be the first veto of Condon’s term, and it’s unclear whether the City Council could muster the five votes needed to override it.

“We certainly hope that the mayor will use his veto power,” said Michael Cathcart, chief lobbyist for the Homebuilders. “We’ve asked our members to contact him and urge him to do it.”

Condon has given no indication which way he’s leaning.

Although many of his biggest political backers were among those opposing the measure, the mayor has been openly critical of the Spokane County Commission’s latest 4,100-acre expansion of urban growth areas outside city limits.

That expansion and others by the County Commission were later ruled improper, and are what triggered the city’s plan to prohibit the extension of water and sewer service into newly expanded urban growth areas until any legal challenges are resolved. It won City Council approval Monday night on a 4-2 vote, with Councilman Steve Salvatori absent.

The move is designed to close what backers describe as a loophole in state law that enables developers to apply for permits that must be honored even when the disputed zoning is later overturned.

Under the City Council plan, developers would be unable to get city utilities in disputed urban area expansions until any legal questions are satisfied, which backers say will remove the incentive to engage in questionable zoning changes.

Developers and business groups warn it will hurt economic development efforts and cost the region jobs. Proponents of the plan dismiss the warnings as nonsense and note that the ordinance does nothing to interfere with lawful expansions of the urban growth area.

City spokesman Brian Coddington said the mayor is carefully reviewing the final version of the ordinance the council approved.

“He’s going through a deliberative approach,” Coddington said, noting that the mayor is reviewing the testimony from Monday night’s council meeting and talking with people about the plan.

Condon has 10 days from when he receives a new ordinance to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The City Council can override a mayoral veto with five votes. Salvatori couldn’t be reached Wednesday for an interview, but he generally votes with Councilmen Mike Allen and Mike Fagan, both of whom opposed the measure. That would potentially leave backers one vote short of what’s needed for an override.

Councilman Jon Snyder, who sponsored the new ordinance, said he’d be surprised if Condon vetoed the measure.

“The mayor has gone on record with his concerns over what the county is doing,” Snyder said Wednesday.

Early last year, Condon joined Snyder, Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilwoman Amber Waldref in sending a letter formally opposing the county’s latest urban area expansion.

“Local governments are learning that it is not sustainable to have our population and development patterns too geographically spread out,” Condon and the others wrote. “Existing and new taxpayers are burdened by the costs of extending and maintaining extra miles of roads, utility lines, pipes, pump stations, and general urban services are are necessary to serve low-density development patterns on the urban edge.”

The County Commission approved the expansion, which was later ruled improper by the state’s Growth Management Board and sent back with a requirement that the public be given greater opportunity to comment on the proposal. But developers were able to obtain permits that are considered “vested” regardless of what happens to the zoning.

The lobbying push from the Homebuilders Association is primarily focusing on the process the City Council used in pushing the new prohibition to a vote. It was introduced and then brought to a final vote two weeks later, which backers say gave people enough time to comment on it.

Cathcart and others contend the plan should have been vetted more thoroughly and sent to the city’s Plan Commission for review before a final proposal was crafted for a council vote.

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