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Spokane County, neighborhood groups sign sweeping settlement in land-use disputes

Spokane County signed a truce Monday with neighborhood groups over how officials decide where growth can occur.

The 12-page agreement among Spokane County commissioners, state agencies, neighborhood associations and the planning advocacy group Futurewise resolves four lawsuits, one of which dates to 2005. The compact also lays the groundwork for how to handle future disputes between the county, which has been criticized for approving growth without seeking enough input from residents, and neighbors concerned that growth puts undue stress on public services.

“We’ll be able to draw some closure,” Spokane County Commissioner Al French said. “When you look at where we’re at here, both sides have given, and both sides have taken.”

The agreement mostly leaves in place the so-called “urban growth boundary,” an area drawn by Spokane County commissioners in 2013 to dictate where services such as sewer and other utilities can be extended in anticipation of future growth. In exchange, commissioners agreed to accept a population growth forecast below their original estimates, which will limit where expansion can occur. Commissioners also agreed to freeze further expansion of the urban growth boundary until 2025, unless they can prove to neighborhoods a change is needed.

“We’re giving up that fight and saying, OK, we have an outsized (urban growth area), but we’re going to grow into it,” said Kitty Klitzke, the Eastern Washington program director for Futurewise, who represented the group at six mediation sessions presided over by members of the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

French’s fellow Commissioners Shelly O’Quinn and Nancy McLaughlin praised the work of the mediators and interested parties, including two attorneys working on behalf of developers. The settlement agreement, which took 18 months to craft, was unanimously approved by the commission at a special meeting Monday afternoon.

“I’m grateful that everybody stuck with it,” McLaughlin said.

The agreement settles the 2005 lawsuit, brought by the Five Mile Neighborhood Association after the county included in its urban growth boundary 229 acres of undeveloped land in northern portions of the county, and a 2008 challenge of the former McGlades Bistro business at Yale and Day-Mount Spokane roads. Owners of an earlier version of the restaurant sued the county for issuing a string of building permits they construed as permission for the restaurant and won a $750,000 settlement from the county in 2008. But controversy about the site continued after that deal was reached.

The Five Mile neighborhood will drop its challenge of the urban growth expansion, while the McGlades property will be positioned outside the boundary, according to the terms of the agreement.

Neighborhoods gained the ability to freeze any expansion of the urban growth boundary and development projects on that land until they consult with county planners. Spokane County also will only be able to begin development near the Geiger Spur railroad line on the West Plains if it removes about 400 acres from elsewhere within the urban growth boundary, a concession that French called difficult.

“That’ll be painful, that’ll be painful to find out where that can happen,” he said.

Rick Eichstaedt, who represented several of the neighborhood groups in the negotiations, said his clients conceded the 2013 urban growth boundary in exchange for more input during subsequent negotiations on expansion.

“This sets a framework where all of us can work together in the future,” he said.

Andrew Biviano, the Democrat running to unseat O’Quinn, observed the signing of the agreement and called it a “good first step” but said mediation was a costly alternative to following state growth management law in the first place.

“It’s disappointing it took this long,” he said.

O’Quinn said the time and money spent were worth it because the county has resolved several long-running legal claims and has a clear path forward on future growth.

“I think, by coming to a compromise, we saved taxpayers money in the long run,” she said.

Read the full text of the agreement here: http://www.spokesman.com/documents/2016/jun/21/settlement-agreement-between-spokane-county-and-ne/.


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