Not surprisingly, it's a David-and-Goliath story, and it all started at meeting in November 2003, when some 200 residents of the Glenrose neighborhood on the east end of the South Hill gathered to hear about plans to develop one of the area's remaining open spaces with 161 homes and 99 apartment units.
"We went to the public traffic-scoping meeting," recalls Glenrose resident Linde Hackett. "Someone expressed their concerns about possible negative impacts from this project, and the developer's traffic engineer yelled at her, 'We don't care what you people think!' That did it. I was determined to make them care."
With very little knowledge about the planning and zoning process, Hackett, her husband Alex Renner, neighbors Tina Flint and Sally Reynolds, and nearby homeowner and lawyer Richard Wall founded Citizens for Responsible Development (CeRED). Their goal: to derail the South Ridge Planned Unit Development, located on 52 acres at Havana and 29th. The developer of the project is Lancze Douglass, son of Harlan Douglass, the most powerful developer in Spokane County.
For more than two years now, 50 members of CeRED (pun intended -- "seeing red" over all the uncontrolled development) have spent thousands of hours of their personal time and more than $12,000 for all the legal briefs and expert studies to try to quell Douglass's stable of lawyers and friendly Spokane County officials.
Fairy Godmother & r & To Flint, Renner and Hackett, those 52 acres represent habitat for deer and migratory birds, a wild area and a Ponderosa pine shed. There are dozens of wild rose thickets and a few stands of cottonwoods and aspens growing on the property.
But one animal in particular has captured the imagination of CeRED: the fairy shrimp. Just as the spotted owl was highlighted as a way to shine a light on unhealthy forestry practices, the fairy shrimp (which may be of a species that is listed as a threatened) could help thwart the South Ridge plans.
Vernal pool fairy shrimp are threatened by human efforts to drain and fill in these watersheds for agriculture and development. Stormwater run-off containing pesticides, chemical residues and other contaminants, including soil loads, has been impacting remaining shrimp populations from Baja to California and here in Washington and Oregon, which is why one species is under federal protection.
Renner, a professional photographer, recently photographed one of South Ridge's fairy shrimp in a jar. "Fairy Shrimp Found -- The Developer Denies they Exist" is one the group's mantras, and they've even made up T-shirts with the crustacean's mug printed on them.
Indeed, the fairy shrimp's existence on the 52 acres has been denied by the developer and his researcher, Michael Folsom. Flint and Hackett, however, point out that Douglass sent his expert to look for this shrimp in August, when the vernal pools recede and dry up and the crustacean's embryos -- protected by an outer covering tough as nails -- are buried and inactive.
As soon as the vernal or ephemeral pools fill up, the eggs hatch, releasing hundreds of fairy shrimp, which then continue the breeding and developmental cycle until the pools disappear again. Food for all sorts of animals, the fairy shrimp is a type of indicator species of the health of the wetlands ecosystem.
First discovered by middle school students at nearby Chase Middle School, the shrimp have been confirmed by Hugh Lefcort, an aquatic biologist, and David Boose, a vernal pool botanist -- both of whom are professors at Gonzaga. Both Boose and Lefcort wrote reports on the ecosystem diversity of these 52 acres and a follow-up retort to Folsom's findings of "fact."
Poster Child & r & "This development is the poster child of what's wrong with land-use planning in this county," says Wall, the attorney who lives in the neighborhood. "Look, there aren't groups like us to challenge the system, and developers like Douglass know that. The county accepted it: end of story. The county is very biased and did not look at this project critically."
But for CeRED, there is no end to this story yet.
Buttressing their arguments was Spokane County Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey's study of the PUD proposal. Dempsey is the legal expert inside Spokane County who tells County Commissioners Phil Harris, Todd Mielke and Mark Richard whether developments are legal. A year ago, Dempsey issued a 52-page report with almost 260 findings, and he levied dozens of conditions to the South Ridge PUD before any construction could occur. Shortly thereafter, Cliff Cameron (Douglass's agent for the project) and Douglass appealed, citing 33 errors in Dempsey's report. And as some citizens dealing with these sorts of planning and zoning ruckuses know, the appeal process then became further protracted with briefings and appeals.
On June 7, the commissioners made their ruling, striking or modifying six major conditions issued by the hearing examiner, overruling their own land-use planning expert.
CeRED appealed the decision, which then went to Superior Court, where Judge Sam Cozza heard arguments on Jan. 6.
Of course, Douglass and Cameron weren't personally arguing their case; they have other cases to confront, like the neighbors fighting another development of 182 homes called the Ponderosa Pines PUD, planned for 40 natural acres near Dishman Hills. Michael Murphy and William Crittenden of Seattle are Cameron and Douglass' barristers, and they did their best to discredit CeRED's (and Dempsey's) view of the project.
Hackett, Flint, Wall and the others in CeRED contend that Dempsey's requirement for comprehensive hydrology and soil studies on how stormwater runoff, drainage and soil percolation would be affected by the intense clear-cutting of this piece of land is sound.
"Douglass needs to conduct further studies as both LUPA (the Land Use Petition Act) requires and as Dempsey has stipulated," Flint says. She believes the site and surrounding homes could be further affected by the grading, infilling and pounding of the basalt and soils as the site is prepared for road building and construction preparation.
"Taxpayers will have to pay for the mistakes when flooding occurs," Flint adds.
"Mr. Dempsey is charged with rendering an interpretation of laws, regulations and policies," argued CeRED's attorney, John Montgomery, in Cozza's courtroom. "County Commissioners can't just dislike or disagree with the hearing examiner's findings."
One of the few animated moments unfolded when Murphy, Douglass and Cameron's attorney, denigrated Chase Middle School's eighth-graders, teachers and community volunteers who, for the past 11 years, have been engaged in "nature mapping" under the auspices of the University of Washington to collect data about species diversity. Murphy called into question the veracity of these students' findings from 1998 to 2001 as they worked on wildlife studies connected to the resident and migratory birds, mammals, insects and aquatic species and plant biota in this zone, which has been described by scientists working for Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities as comparable to the diversity of wildlife and ecosystems found in the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge.
"Only scientific evidence is acceptable," Murphy told Judge Cozza. Douglass' lawyer continued to lob sarcasms and predicated his argument on the issue of whether eighth-graders could be trusted as reliable sources of scientific observation and whether developers or politicians "have to be required to heed middle schoolers' findings."
CeRED's hopes were dashed two weeks ago, when Cozza's decision came down and he upheld the commissioners' decision to allow the project. CeRED plans to appeal Cozza's ruling.
Digesting Acronym Soup & r & CeRED members were on a steep learning curve when they first questioned the South Ridge PUD, so they turned to Tina Flint, whose battles with Spokane County go farther back than the current fight. Flint had already battled the county on ditch digging, a nearby property owner's wetlands alteration and hundreds of truckloads of fill being moved in this critical habitat -- all approved by the county. Her 3.5 acres and 30-year-old home overlook the South Ridge development where some of the apartment units are proposed for construction. She has an outhouse that she uses part of the year because supersaturated ground, runoff and underground streams mess up her septic drain field.
"I thought for so many years that [public officials] were doing the right things," Flint says. "I had to become an activist because, ultimately, they have to do their job. I've become very disillusioned with the county commissioners."
Flint's the planning wonk of the group, Hackett says, making it clear that her role in the group is agitator, lightning rod and media prod. Hackett's husband Renner set up the CeRED Web site www.cered.info and has taken all the photos, including aerial shots of the property, vernal pools, swales, creeks and flora. Wall is the legal eagle of the group. All told, CeRED is made up of 50 members, but eight are the synergistic force behind it all, Hackett says.
Maxine and Clarence Alloway, Flint's neighbors, have five acres and a house that was completed in 1980 near the Douglass-Cameron project. On a recent morning, Maxine was out with her dogs, watching them tussle in the mud that her sump pump was creating because of basement flooding caused by the recent rains and underground creeks.
"We went through the drainage analysis before we started building," Clarence says. Maxine adds that they also abided by wetlands management rules, yet they watched as the county allowed wetlands to be graded over and filled in.
"I have nothing against housing. But there's so much property on the South Hill that's flat. Where [Douglass] wants to build contradicts every shred of common sense. It's steep, porous and nothing will keep those houses [from flooding] in a heavy, heavy rain."
After watching the county allow the wetlands to be drained and filled, folks like the Alloways and Flint reached a breaking point.
"They try to label people like us anti-growth, anti-development," says Flint. "But the studies that need to be done are part of basic planning principles to assure a subdivision is following the GMA [Growth Management Act]."
Jumbles of acronyms like CARA (Critical Aquifer Recharge Area), SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act), UGB (Urban Growth Boundary), TIA (Traffic Impact Analysis) and dozens of terms like "concurrency," "impact fees," "mitigation," "critical habitat" and "wetlands buffer zone" have become part of Flint's lexicon. they are implements in CeRED's toolbox for stopping developments that are going to degrade their neighborhood's aesthetic qualities, not to mention the basic safety issue of more automobiles on 29th and Havana.
"We no longer can remain complacent as a community," Hackett says while walking in the 52 acres. "It takes a lot of time, energy and money to fight. But it is worth every minute, every ounce of energy and every dime to fight for a worthy cause."
Tree Hugging If Needed & r & After spending hours with Renner, Hackett, Flint and others, and more hours on the property in question, it's easy to see how life-affirming and empowering this two-year battle has been.
They've invested thousands of hours going over countless documents and attending hearings and meetings. Hackett says she's been known to spend eight hours straight on the phone just on this case. Flint's on a first-name basis with Commissioner Mark Richard and others. They've been issued warnings not to "trespass on the property," and they've had doors slammed in their faces. They fight what they believe is the good fight.
Last month, while taking pictures, Renner stopped a four-wheeler on the property and asked the man and his daughter why they were tracking over the fragile land.
"'It's a done deal,' is what the guy said. I told him that, in fact, it wasn't a done deal -- far from it," Renner says. "Then he called me a 'tree-hugger.'"
The irony is that Renner had worked as a logger for 10 years, spent time in the Marines and the Vietnam conflict and identifies himself as conservative.
In the end, if the South Ridge PUD goes through, the entire 52 acres will be clear-cut, and critical habitat will be paved over.
And human habitat will change, too. The stretch of 29th that runs along the property, intersecting part of it, is precarious to say the least. The curving, up-and-down street is difficult to walk along due to car speeds and blind curves. Residents of 156 new homes and 99 apartments will funnel onto those roads, along with Freya, Glenrose and Carnahan.
It's easy to get lost in such important details, but CeRED believes their work on South Ridge will set a precedent. They are accused of garden-variety not-in-my-backyard activism, but they say they are fighting a key battle in the war for a better future for all of Spokane County. All members believe that if their hard-working, quirky and headstrong group doesn't win its appeal, then Spokane will become a little farther from nature, and much less perfect.
"If we don't win, this will send a message to the county that they can do business as usual," says Hackett. "It will send a message to developers that they can get away with anything. And it will send a message to neighborhood groups that they can't do anything about sprawl and bad development."