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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Land-Use Wrangling Far From Over Comprehensive Plans Are Needed By July 1

It was gut-wrenching for hundreds of landowners and the three politicians forced to make the decision.

But setting limits on urban development, as Spokane County commissioners did Tuesday, doesn’t end the debate over land-use restrictions.

Not nearly.

The county and each of the cities within its borders now must write comprehensive plans to establish exactly what kind of development is allowed in rural and urban areas.

The plans must outline what services will be provided by which local government and how service improvements - new roads, parks, sewer lines and the like - will be funded. They must show how communities will assure that low-income residents have roofs over their heads.

And under the strictest interpretation of state law, that monumental task must be done by July 1.

Then, each of the governments has another six months to write land-use regulations and zoning codes.

The county’s small towns may meet the deadlines and the city of Spokane probably won’t be far behind. They’ve been working on comprehensive plans for months.

But nobody expects the county to complete its comprehensive plan before the end of the year, and even that goal may be overly optimistic.

The urban growth boundaries that commissioners set Tuesday were four months overdue. Preoccupied with that decision, county officials haven’t even started work on a comprehensive plan, said John Mercer, county planner in charge of growth management.

State officials said they’d rather the county be thorough than timely.

“Planning is a people process, and if you involve people … it becomes hard to meet deadlines,” said Dick Fryhling, the state’s senior growth management planner.

Local governments already have comprehensive plans. The county’s was adopted in 1980; the city of Spokane’s in 1983.

Those documents were considered guidelines that could be set aside at the whim of elected officials. Under the state Growth Management Act, the plans must be much more comprehensive and must be followed to the letter.

In fact, the new requirements are so much more stringent than the old ones that the city of Spokane is starting over, said Planning Director Charlie Dotson. The county intends to do a massive rewrite of its comprehensive plan, which was seven years in the making, Mercer said.

Key to the new comprehensive plans is the state’s requirement that each local government outline where it will get the money to provide services new development will demand.

Had financial plans been required in 1981, some residential areas of the Valley and North Side would still be rural. As part of its comprehensive plan, the county that year drew a boundary showing where it would provide sewers in the next 10 years. Under state law, urban growth could only occur within that “priority sewer service area.”

The state approved the massive boundary, and even let the county expand it several times, without checking to see whether there was money to build the sewers the county proposed.

Ten years later, sewer work had hardly begun, and county officials acknowledged it would take at least another 40 years to finish the job.

That couldn’t happen under the new regulations, said Dotson.

“Now, we have to show that (goals are) fiscally achievable,” he said.

In addition to that financial proof, the comprehensive plan must include:

A six-year transportation plan that is updated every year. It must show that roads are adequate for new development.

A plan for providing utilities in developing areas.

An inventory of housing, and plans for encouraging more low-income housing, if needed.

An outline of the types of development allowed in rural and urban areas.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Urban growth areas

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