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Urban growth input sought

Sat., May 31, 2014

Public hearing set for Tuesday on expansion plan

The public can weigh in Tuesday on Spokane County’s attempt to open 4,100 acres to denser development.

County commissioners approved the expansion of the “urban growth area” last year to places such as the West Plains, the area north of Mead, parts of Spokane Valley and Glenrose Prairie.

In November, a state hearings board sided with opponents of the expansion who argued that county commissioners didn’t allow adequate public input on the expansion.

The commissioners were given until next month to fix the procedural errors.

That ruling skirted other points of contention over the expansion. So even if commissioners fix the problems cited by the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, there likely will be continuing challenges on the need to expand the urban area. The issue could remain a community debate for months to come.

Kitty Klitzke, the Eastern Washington program director for the Futurewise land-use organization, said county commissioners haven’t justified the need for urban expansion. There’s plenty of developable land inside the existing urban area, she said.

To discourage sprawl, the state’s growth management law requires the county to analyze and justify any expansion of areas where dense development is allowed.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said that by expanding the urban growth area, the county would provide the legal foundation for planned new schools, public sewer extensions and industrial development. In addition, commissioners want the county’s urban growth area to include acreage that is already urban in character.

Mielke said next week’s hearing will improve the county’s justification for urban expansion. He said he expects more than one hearing before county commissioners vote on the controversial expansion.

Spokane City Council members are watching closely. Earlier this year, they tried to stop expansion into the disputed urban growth areas by limiting city-owned water and sewer connections while expansion is being reconsidered or appealed. Mayor David Condon vetoed an ordinance that would have stopped utility extensions into disputed areas.

After commissioners approved the expansion in July, developers moved quickly to obtain building permits. State law allows property owners to “vest” development rights while opponents are appealing a proposed urban expansion.

Even if the commissioners reapprove the urban-area expansion from July, opponents said they are likely to challenge the decision again before the hearings board and in court.

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