Zoning. Planning. Land use. Yawn.
Rousing public interest in revisions to Spokane County’s comprehensive plan is no small task. Or, as County Commissioner Phil Harris colorfully put it a few weeks ago: “There’s no way we can get a Gestapo team out there to drag people to meetings.”
But what if it were clear that the stakes include taxes, economic development and job creation, ease of transportation, proximity to shopping, housing density? That might ignite public interest. Or not.
The reality is, however, that the county is obliged to update its comprehensive plan by the end of next year, and people who want a say in how it turns out should act now. The Building and Planning Department is accepting comments through the end of June, after which the work of assembling a set of recommendations will begin.
Everything in the plan is potentially on the table, from definitions of land-use categories to the size of the urban growth area – the close-in land designated to accommodate the next 20 years of growth. County commissioners already have declared their interest in enlarging the current 57-square-mile UGA by 11 miles. That’s welcome news to builders and developers who say the current boundaries make buildable land scarce, which drives prices up.
But expanding the urban growth area has a price tag of its own to the alarm of community members who fear the costly consequences of stretching streets, sewers, water and power lines to appease a population that hungers for lots measured in acres instead of feet.
If the county really wants broad participation in the process – and some neighborhood organizations have doubts – it needs to demonstrate its sincerity by conducting a wide-open, recorded process, hearing what the participants say and accommodating their concerns to the extent possible without harming public interest. If the county wants developers, property owners and neighborhood activists to turn out, it should extend personal invitations.
At the same time, citizens who want to be effective participants in the process need to be realistic. Growth will occur. The comp plan is an instrument for managing it, not preventing it.
The public will get another look at the proposed revisions when they go to the County Plan Commission and the Board of County Commissioners. For now, county officials have invited public input; those who expect to judge the outcome later should weigh in now.
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