Land-use changes to accommodate a new jail on the West Plains were about as welcome as a strip search in public testimony Thursday.
Eleven people, including Medical Lake City Administrator Doug Ross, objected to the jail in a Spokane County Planning Commission hearing. No one other than staff and consultants spoke in favor of the proposal.
The most common objection was that it is inappropriate to rezone 429 acres from “rural traditional” to “light industrial” to accommodate a 40-acre jail site.
Ross said the Medical Lake government opposes construction of the Geiger Corrections Center replacement on rural land about four miles east of the city, near the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90.
He urged planning commissioners to focus on whether more light industrial land is needed when there already is a surplus.
Commissioners took no action, and reserved the right to collect more information before they deliberate.
The 429 acres would be added to an urban growth area that would be jointly planned by Spokane County and the city of Spokane. Besides allowing the necessary zone change, putting the land in a growth area would allow Spokane to provide sewer and water service.
The state Growth Management Act doesn’t allow the county to create an “island” UGA limited to the jail site.
Another common contention at the hearing was that county commissioners improperly declared an emergency to allow the Planning Commission to consider the land-use changes without waiting for an annual review this fall.
County Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke cited the “health, safety and welfare” of the public as well as corrections officers and jail inmates. Their declaration last September also cited the need to be ready for a bond measure vote in April.
Critics noted that the proposed election date has since been abandoned.
Bonnie Mager voted against the emergency declaration before she was unseated by Al French. She denounced it again Thursday on behalf of the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County.
She and Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise said their organizations concurred with a 10-page criticism submitted by the Center for Justice and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
Planning Commissioner Mike Cummings called the letter, drafted by attorney Rick Eichstaedt “very eye-opening.”
Commission Chairman Peter Rayner suggested, however, that “a jail is a very different animal” when it comes to declaring an emergency to speed up a land-use decision.
Many of those who testified Thursday – including members of the No New Jail Coalition – believe the proposed jail is unnecessary. They cited last summer’s layoff of 67 corrections officers because of a drop in jail bookings.
Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sparber, the jail project manager, said the inmate count dropped from about 1,100 to about 700, but “now we’re back up over 800.”
Howard and Katharine Hamby had a more personal objection: that the new jail would destroy their dream of building a retirement home on 27 acres they bought more than 30 years ago.
“The rural life that we had hoped for will be gone,” Howard Hamby said.
He and his wife called for county officials to include their adjacent property to the proposed zone change in hopes they can sell it without a loss.
“No one wants to live next to the jail,” Katharine Hamby said.
“I think all of us appreciate the pickle you’re in,” Rayner responded.