Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 40° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

County wants to trim Planning Commission

The panel charged with helping shape growth and development across Spokane County likely will be getting smaller.

Spokane County commissioners want to trim the seven-member Planning Commission to five, citing reduced workload after Spokane Valley incorporated as its own city. Critics, however, say the move has more to do with politics than with workload.

Two proposals for reorganizing the county Planning Commission, both of which would reduce the size of the panel, will be considered Tuesday by county commissioners.

“I think the county commissioners want to revamp everything and reduce citizen input. Their backgrounds are very similar, they’re pro-development,” said Planning Commission Chairwoman Lindell Haggin, who was appointed to the panel by former county Commissioner John Roskelley. “They want to streamline things so development can happen.”

Building and Planning Department Director Jim Manson recommended downsizing the commission because with the county’s Comprehensive Plan completed and Spokane Valley incorporation there’s less for the commission to do.

The two downsizing options under consideration are either to allow the reduction to occur naturally through attrition at the end of the year or terminate the panel now and start fresh with a smaller panel consisting of new appointees.

“Politically it would be nice if you disbanded the seven-member and established a five-member. That gives the board the chance to appoint their own members,” said Manson.

Right now the commission still includes three people appointed by former Commissioners Roskelley and Kate McCaslin.

“I think quite honestly the fundamental question is function and that we have a plan commission that is responsive and is going to give us objective and well-thought-out input,” said County Commissioner Mark Richard, who added that he has concerns about the Planning Commission’s ability to do that right now.

In particular he objected to Haggin appearing before the board as a neighborhood activist to speak out against some development projects at the same time she is supposed to be reviewing development proposals on the Planning Commission.

“It’s what I believe is crossing the line,” said Richard. “That’s something that needs to be fixed.”

He added that he’s not sure waiting until the end of the year is the best solution.

“The way that I look at these appointments is, first and foremost are we going to find somebody who can be objective in their review of the information? Second, can they look at things with an open mind? And the third criteria I look at, is it someone who can be reflective of the majority of the community?” said County Commissioner Todd Mielke.

Turnover and the fresh ideas that come with it are a good thing when it comes to county boards and commissions, Mielke added.

“For them to say we’re trying to intentionally dump a bunch of people, that’s not it,” he said.

Besides, there just isn’t enough Planning Commission work for seven people, and reducing the size of the group will make it easier for them to make quorum, said Manson.

“I have to agree with him,” said County Commissioner Phil Harris. “Their job has diminished.”

Spokane Valley incorporation reduced the population the Planning Commission is responsible for by 42 percent, Manson said. And the county has completed its comprehensive plan and just updated its development regulations.

Planning Commission member Bev Keating laughed out loud at the idea that there isn’t enough work to warrant a seven-member commission.

The group still needs to complete the county’s design review ordinance, review any comprehensive plan amendments and finish a new shoreline study, said Keating, who was appointed by Harris. Then there are the other committees Planning Commission members sit on to participate in discussions about wastewater, shoreline management and economic development.

And a scheduled five-year update of the comprehensive plan is just around the corner.

“With the five-year update, there is a whole lot of work the planning commission needs to be doing,” Keating said.

Haggin agreed: “I think for the size of Spokane County, seven members is minimal.”

As for the accusations that county commissioners are trying to fill the Planning Commission with their own appointees, Harris said that would happen anyway as members’ terms ended.

“When people elected me, they elected me for what I stood for,” Harris said. “The people want me to appoint people who think and believe in the thoughts I have.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.