A property owner will try again to establish a controversial basalt mining operation on his 78 acres in western Spokane County.
But Don Howell, a retired real estate agent who’s helping Ron Calhoon navigate the bureaucratic process, said the project is very different from the pit mining operations that have sparked controversy in Spokane Valley and does not broach the population density concerns that have seen several housing developments stall in the same procedure.
“Mr. Calhoon has looked at the rules and still believes that this is not an open-pit mining operation that’s going to the center of the earth, and would like to extract some rock,” Howell said.
The pair put together a permit that would allow surface mining on the acreage at the end of Brooks Road, about 10 miles northwest of Airway Heights. The land is zoned for farming, but Howell said the earth there is no good for growing and would require trucking in topsoil.
“This is an effort to classify it as it should be,” Howell said.
That permit was challenged by neighbors, who worried about stress on the gravel roads, noise from the operation and potential issues with area wells. But Calhoon plans only to employ surface extraction, removing exposed columnar igneous rock popular in landscaping, Howell said. Calhoon also promised to only mine the rock during daytime hours and to construct a 6-foot fence around the site, per county regulations.
Still, Spokane County Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey rejected the permit application after a hearing in September when a neighbor within 1,000 feet of the proposed hauling road objected to the land use. Now, Calhoon and Howell are coming back with a proposal to change the zoning of the acreage set forth in the county’s comprehensive plan, which designates the land for agricultural uses in a process Howell said painted the county in broad and inaccurate strokes more than a decade ago.
“They did not have the time or resources” to closely survey all portions of the county, leading to the necessity of annual amendments that can legally change the zoning of parcels, Howell said.
Steve Davenport, of the Spokane County Building and Planning Department, acknowledged to commissioners that agricultural use may not be the most appropriate category for the acreage.
“It is scabland,” he said. “With very poor soil, and a lot of rock outcroppings.”
County commissioners had their first chance earlier this month to look at Calhoon’s proposal, one of three zoning change requests filed by Spokane County property owners this year. A request must be filed with the county between January and March to be considered by the commissioners.
It will likely be at least a year before a decision is made about whether mining can take place on Calhoon’s property. Commissioners are still considering the amendment changes proposed last year, which include a request to rezone land near Wandermere Golf Course to allow construction of a 354-unit apartment complex. Commissioners have set a date in June to hold a public hearing on the project, which has held up several noncontroversial zoning map changes. By law, commissioners must decide on all proposed zoning changes before work can begin on any one of them.
The zoning change would allow mining on Calhoon’s land without requiring the agreement of property owners within 1,000 feet of the hauling road. Neighbors can testify against the project at upcoming public hearings on the proposal, which have not yet been scheduled. If the commissioners approve the zoning change, the hearing examiner would hear the case once more before the zoning is finalized, said County Planning Director John Pederson.
“You have what is essentially a two-step process,” he said. “At that point, the hearing examiner has the authority to impose additional conditions” like hours of operation and how much mining can take place.
Howell said the issue comes down to fairness.
“We’re just trying to find the right avenues that allow Mr. Calhoon to use his property,” he said.
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