The city of Spokane Valley is weighing termination of a long-standing contract with Spokane County to avoid a conflict of interest between its hearing examiner and a developer.
The city has contracted for more than 15 years with Spokane County for hearing examiner services, which were provided by Mike Dempsey until his retirement in 2017.
The county subsequently hired its current hearing examiner David Hubert, who has presided in a number of cases this year for Spokane Valley.
However, Hubert has recused himself from two hearings that involved Diamond Rock Construction Inc. – one of the city’s largest developers – because of a long-standing friendship with owner Dennis Crapo.
Spokane Valley retained the city of Spokane’s hearing examiner, Brian McGinn, for those cases.
The city is anticipating more projects involving Diamond Rock Construction Inc. and as a result, Hubert will have to recuse himself from hearing potential cases in the future, which poses a problem for city staff.
“The likelihood is this is going to keep coming up and from a staff standpoint, it creates some difficulty and confusion having to schedule with multiple hearing examiners,” said Cary Driskell, Spokane Valley city attorney.
A few of Crapo’s proposed developments were met with opposition from Valley residents this year.
Residents in the Ponderosa neighborhood fought a comprehensive plan amendment initiated by Crapo to change zoning of a 5-acre parcel of land near their homes from single-family residential to mixed use for 60 apartments and a retail building.
Residents appealed the environmental review conducted by the city, citing inconsistency with the city’s comprehensive plan, traffic concerns and flooding because the proposed development would be built in a flood plain. The comprehensive plan amendment is still awaiting a decision from City Council.
Another development by Crapo, on the former Bergmann’s Tree Farm, which calls for more than 78 townhomes, was met with anger by residents during a traffic study who claim the multifamily project will destroy their rural neighborhood.
That development, which is on county land, has yet to be heard by a Spokane County hearing examiner to determine if it meets zoning regulations and standards.
If Spokane Valley chooses to terminate the hearing examiner contract with Spokane County, it will give six months notice, to see what is likely to happen with future recusals by Hubert and reduce any budgetary impact for this year.
The City Council will vote on the contract termination at a June 19 council meeting.
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