Siding with residents passionately opposed to growth in Otis Orchards, the county hearing examiner committee denied a request to rezone 25 acres from semi-rural residential to regional business use.
Developer Gene Cohen planned to build five buildings on land he and his partners own at the corner of Harvard and Euclid. Each would be a 6,500-square-foot building housing businesses such as an emergency medical clinic, a barbershop, dentist office, laundromat or dry cleaner.
Neighbors wanted no part of the idea. During the two-part session that started last Thursday and wrapped up Friday, about 10 people testified against the plan, most saying that they didn’t want to open the door to increased traffic and further commercial growth.
“People move to a rural area and they don’t want shopping at their fingertips, and they don’t want traffic at their fingertips,” neighbor Marian Lonam told the committee. She said the businesses at the Harvard and Wellesley - such as Ace Hardware and Norma’s Burger Barn - were enough for the community.
Two different petitions were brought in, one with 105 signatures and the endorsement of the nearby River of Life Church.
Cohen’s presentation started with a winding look at the history of the land he bought from the Pringle family in the late 1970s. At the request of committee members to stick to the subject, he finally based his appeal on the need for more services in Otis Orchards.
Referring to the neighbors gathered to oppose the zoning change, Cohen said that without nearby medical facilities, “Any one of these people could have a heart attack tomorrow, and if it didn’t work, well, they could be dead. And that’s their pristine lifestyle.”
Cohen also said it was better to have a developer who wants to enhance the community, rather than wait for big-box developers from outside the area.
“(It) would not be pristine, it will be a feeder valve onto the freeway.”
But the committee was not swayed, and members voted unanimously against the zone change. Members referred to the Spokane River as the line dividing rural Otis Orchards and the development hotbed of Liberty Lake.
After the meeting, Cohen said he didn’t know what he would do next. This week, he said he will most likely appeal the decision to the county commission. It would take from six to eight weeks for the appeal to be heard.
David Traner, who circulated the petition that 105 residents signed, said he hopes Cohen finds another use for the land.
“I hope he sells it to someone as a farm,” Traner said. The place should keep its rural zoning, he said.
“I’m reassured that zoning works and the idea of zoning is, at least in part, a matter of protection.”
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