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Part of South Hill big-box challenge rejected

Environmental arguments yet to be heard

A state hearings board this week rejected some arguments made by concerned neighbors against a city decision that cleared the way for potential big-box stores on three South Hill parcels.

Some Southgate neighborhood residents contended the city violated the state’s Growth Management Act, in part by failing to use a neighborhood planning process to designate the parcels, near South Regal Street and the Palouse Highway, for development as commercial centers. But the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board said Monday the residents failed to prove their arguments, and the board dismissed that part of the case.

The decision came nearly a week after Home Depot announced it had dropped its plans for a store on one of the parcels. The Atlanta-based retailer never purchased the land north of the highway next to an existing ShopKo.

The hearings board separately will consider the neighbors’ environmental challenge.

“We’re obviously pleased with the decision,” said Glenn Amster, a Seattle attorney representing Home Depot.

“The board recognized that the city has an extensive public participation plan but does not require neighborhood planning as had been alleged for the last two years by the opponents of the project.”

The Spokane City Council passed controversial comprehensive plan changes allowing big-box stores in July after would-be developers agreed to concessions, such as preservation of views, restrictions on cutting down trees and creation of a storm water collection system. City officials said there was insufficient money for neighborhood planning, necessitating the comprehensive plan amendments.

The Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane, the nonprofit Futurewise and neighbor Ginger Patano joined the Southgate Neighborhood Council in the appeal.

The hearings board decision was “really surprising,” said Rick Eichstaedt, an attorney with the nonprofit Spokane law firm Center for Justice. “The requirements of the plan are pretty clear,” he said.

The petitioners will consider whether to appeal the decision, he said.

It is unclear what will happen with the land where Home Depot planned to build. It’s owned by different entities coordinated by Spokane real estate company Kiemle & Hagood.

Representatives of Home Depot and the neighborhood could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Home Depot’s announcement surprised architect Gary Bernardo, the local agent for Home Depot.

But estimates for site-development costs were becoming higher than expected, he said.

“The more you spend on a project, the more you know about it, and sometimes that has an impact on whether you make a decision to go forward or not,” Bernardo said.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said developer Dave Black, who will look to develop land southeast of Regal and the highway.

“They were also paying a lot of money for the site.”

Black said Target was still interested in building a South Hill store, though he does not have a deal with the company.

For the Home Depot site, Bernardo said, designers had considered locating it so more intensive, mixed-use development could be built later along the street.

“Our site plan was beginning to reflect those kind of sentiments” expressed by the neighbors, he said.

Reach Parker Howell at (509) 459-5491 or parkerh@
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