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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Development in the Latah Valley put on hold for a year as strained infrastructure examined

New development in the Latah Valley will immediately be put on hold for a year, after an emergency vote Monday evening by the Spokane City Council.

The one-year ban on projects on undeveloped land in almost all of the Latah-Hangman and Grandview-Thorpe neighborhoods was approved 5-2, with Council members Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart voting against.

The moratorium will apply only to new development applications and does not halt projects already in the pipeline.

It’s the second moratorium in two years as city leaders scramble to make up for lost time, with infrastructure in the area of the city lagging behind a growing population for decades, straining roads and raising safety concerns if residents were forced to evacuate during a fire.

Opponents believe that another pause on development in a quickly growing area would contribute to an ongoing housing crisis and they worry that more moratoriums will be coming, as a year is not enough time to build the needed infrastructure to relieve pressure.

Bingle acknowledged the area’s insufficient infrastructure, but noted that the city is facing a budget crisis and argued the money is not available for the upwards of $50 million in investments needed to fix many of the major problems.

Instead of pausing development, mechanisms may be available to fund those projects through future development, including the tax increment financing system that was leveraged to develop Kendall Yards, Bingle argued.

In 2007, the Spokane City Council approved tax increment financing for that project, with 75 percent of increased city and county taxes generated by the site for 25 years being siphoned to pay for infrastructure like sewers, streets and water mains that the developer needed to build homes and businesses on the land north of the Spokane River.

Supporters argued that additional time when few new buildings would be constructed could be used to draft a specific plan for improvements. They said it could also help to modify future development standards to pump the brakes on growth in areas that cannot handle it and include higher standards for fire mitigation for projects that are allowed.

In September 2022, the City Council approved a surprise moratorium that lasted six months, during which the city heavily modified development fees meant to pay for future infrastructure improvements, such as removing bottlenecks in local roads and building a fire station. But supporters of the new moratorium believe those fees are insufficient to make up for decades of neglect and worry that the area is at high risk during a wildfire.

The ordinance was sponsored by Council members Paul Dillon and Lili Navarrete, who represent the affected area of the city. Monday’s passage is the fulfillment of a campaign pledge of Dillon, who had met with residents in the Latah Valley and argued a further moratorium was needed.