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Cougars are facing an air-borne dilemma as opener looms

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Who would have thought the most important number associated with Washington State football right now would be 100. As in the air quality index and the line between healthy and unhealthy air. Read on.

WSU makes another change in coaching staff

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is a truism in college sports these days that everyone seems to want to ignore. But it happens more often than not. Read on.

Halliday has earned support on this one

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are news reports you read and say “well, that makes sense.” There are others that are just the opposite. Like yesterday. Read on.

Jack Z has dropped the ball with M’s left fielders

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is a classified ad I expect to see soon, either up on Craigslist or the local Seattle newspapers. Read on.

NFL comes down pretty easy on Brady, Patriots

A GRIP ON SPORTS • So the NFL threw the book at Tom Brady and the Patriots. At least it wasn't heavy like "The Stand." It was more like "Of Mice and Men." You were expecting anything else? Read on.

Hoopfest is closer than you think

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are many civic events each year in Spokane. The Lilac Parade, Bloomsday, opening day of pothole season. But one towers above all others. At least in my mind. Read on.

OK, we’re back

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Did I miss anything while I was away, other than a Mariner whitewashing and some fan panic, I mean? No? OK, let's get right back at it. Read on.

Appellate judges block Whitworth development

Updated 4/10 with comment from Kathy Miotke, president of the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County.

State appellate judges on Thursday unanimously overturned a ruling in Spokane County's favor that would have allowed construction of apartment buildings on vacant land near Whitworth University. 

Spokane County Commissioners argued before the court that a rezoning to higher density of 22.3 acres near the intersection of Waikiki and North Five Mile roads provided the mix of residential uses mandated in the state's Growth Management Act. Neighborhood groups including Futurewise and the Five Mile Prairie Neighborhood Association argued the county's position didn't take into account increased traffic burden on Waikiki, the lack of public transit in the area and how the project would affect the character of the surrounding neighborhood, made up mostly of single-family homes.

In its unanimous decision, the appellate judges sided with the neighborhood groups on most of their contentions and ordered the case back to the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board for review. The development is proposed by prominent Spokane landowner and developer Harley Douglass. While there was no official plan filed with the county, Douglass implied he'd like to build 8-10 apartment buildings on the land with room for about 200 residents, according to court records.

"The undisputed evidence showed that the Douglass land lacks good access to a major arterial," wrote Judge George B. Fearing for the marjority, addressing the road access issue. "The Spokane County Board of Commissioners' action conflicted with its own planning commission's findings and recommendations."

Kathy Miotke, president of the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County and outspoken critic of the development, said Friday she was pleased by the court's decision, though it wasn't published and will not set a precedent for future land use cases.

"If you've seen the site where this was proposed, it's totally inappropriate, even for single-family homes," Miotke said.

The appellate court's decision is just one of many in the ongoing legal battle between the county and the Growth Management Hearings Board over interpretation of the state's growth management law. Fearing acknowledged the ongoing struggle in the introduction to his opinion.

"We address once again the compliance of Spokane County with Washington's intractable Growth Management Act (GMA), chapter 36.70A RCW, this time in the context of a comprehensive plan amendment that rezoned a parcel of land," Fearing wrote.

In January 2013, the appellate court sided with the county on a similar challenge of a rezoning near the Wandermere Shopping Center. The attorney for the developer in that case, Stacy Bjordahl, has been retained by the county as an adviser on land use issues, to the chagrin of many neighborhood advocates.

The current county commission is currently weighing a controversial rezoning request near Wandermere Golf Course to allow construction of an apartment complex across the street from a subdivision, in which Bjordahl is also a party. Commissioners are also revisiting a Planning Commission denial in that case.

The county has the option to either appeal the appellate court's decision to the state Supreme Court, or make its case to the Growth Management Hearings Board.

Here's a map of the vacant land in question in Thursday's decision, from court records:

Map of Whitworth development property