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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mielke testimony in Olympia favored land-use appeal fee

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke testified earlier this month in favor of a bill that would charge a $400 fee to citizens who appeal local land-use decisions to the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board.

Mielke, a Republican, said he isn’t necessarily in favor of the fee but wants to stop appeals by people who are not directly affected by land-use changes under the state’s Growth Management Act.

The bill seeks to stop out-of-state groups from getting involved in local land-use fights.

Mielke, who faces re-election this year, testified before a Senate committee last week as secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Association of Counties.

The fee, he said, was proposed by officials at the Growth Management Hearings Board as a way to offset the cost of appeals.

John Roskelley, a Democrat who previously held Mielke’s District 1 seat, slammed Mielke for wanting to make it more difficult for citizens to appeal land-use decisions.

Some of those appeals have been brought against the Spokane County Commission, he said.

Roskelley, who also served on the Growth Management Hearings Board, announced this month he is running against Mielke to reclaim the seat he held from 1995 to 2004. Growth management has already become a central issue in the campaign.

“It is irresponsible for Mielke to advocate eliminating our right as citizens to a fair and impartial appeal to the growth board,” Roskelley said in a prepared statement.

He said the bill is intended to “eliminate those pesky citizens from holding their local elected officials accountable.”

Mielke appeared with Association of Counties lobbyist Josh Weiss before the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, questioned whether the bill was intended “to cut everyone off” from appealing land-use decisions.

“We have a process in place for everyone to participate,” she told Mielke.

In an interview this week, Mielke noted that two groups – one from Oregon and one from Florida – appealed a growth decision in Skamania County, forcing the county to spend money to defend the appeal. Skamania County is in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and land-use issues there have been hotly debated over the years.

Mielke also said the bill seeks to reduce the amount of money spent on appeals both by the state hearings board and by local governments trying to defend their actions.

The $400 fee would likely raise about $48,000 a year, opponents said.

The 1990 Growth Management Act requires cities and counties to plan for development and land-use consistent with population density and availability of public services such as schools, utilities and roads.

Roskelley said conservative forces have been trying to weaken the bill for years.

Mielke was in Olympia as part of a wider lobbying effort by Spokane officials last week.

April Putney, of the group Futurewise, said the bill would render the Growth Management Act “largely unenforceable.”

Currently, citizens may lodge appeals without a filing fee if they have provided evidence during the public participation process in advance of a land-use decision.

The proposal supported by Mielke would only give those adversely affected the right of appeal, which would be consistent with other parts of state law, he said.

Senate Bill 6154 has not come up for a vote by the committee.

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