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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

Appellate judges block Whitworth development

A map showing where developer Harley Douglass hopes to build apartment buildings near Whitworth University. (Spokane County Building and Planning)
A map showing where developer Harley Douglass hopes to build apartment buildings near Whitworth University. (Spokane County Building and Planning)

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


Kip Hill
Kip Hill joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the City Desk, covering the marijuana industry, local politics and breaking news. He previously hosted the newspaper's podcast.

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