Land Rush

by Pia K. Hansen

That the City of Spokane is outgrowing its boundaries is nothing new; city hall has been trying to convince the county commissioners of that for the last several years. All along, city administrators have tried to annex county land, so far with no success. This winter, the focus was on Yardley, the neighborhood right outside the city limits at Havana Street. Lured by the promise of sales taxes streaming into city coffers from stores such as Costco and Home Depot, the city was ready to annex. But Valley voters took the plan off the table when they incorporated.

Spokane then set its sights on the West Plains area -- specifically, the 19.5 square miles around the Spokane International Airport, bordered by the city limits of Airway Heights to the north and Melville Road on the south, leaving a strip of unincorporated land between the proposed city and Fairchild Airforce Base. The city already provides water and sewer to residents and businesses in the area in question.

But at a meeting with Boundary Review Board officials last week -- which was intended to be an informational meeting about the upcoming annexation hearing -- it was pretty clear that the West Plains residents who showed up didn't want to be annexed by anybody.

The next hearing won't take place until December or January.

"Yes, it's correct that we asked for the extension of the hearing jointly, with the city of Spokane," says Lars Gare, city manager in Airway Heights, which is also trying to annex a smaller part of the West Plains area.

He says it wasn't necessarily because of the West Plains' protests that the hearing was cancelled, but because planners realized they couldn't make the deadline for the fall ballot.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Spokane and Airway Heights want to annex some of the same land.

"The one square mile we are trying to annex is part of Spokane's proposal as well," says Gare. "We are making a proposal for slightly less than one square mile, but Spokane is making a proposal for more than 19 square miles."

It sounds like Airway Heights may be hoping to get Spokane to back off just a little -- maybe even before the next hearing in December or January.

"I don't know that we'll be trying to do that. It's the BRB that decides what proposal to approve," says Gare.

But the City of Spokane's Dave Mandyke -- who's spearheading the city's annexation initiative -- says there's a chance they may be able to work something out prior to the hearing.

"That one square mile is continuous to Airway Heights," he says. "We are meeting, and we'll continue to meet and see if we can work something out before the next hearing."

Both cities have to make their proposals to the BRB, which then picks one. The voters in the area have the final say.

Perhaps the biggest carrot dangling in front of the city of Spokane is the airport. Though both the passenger count and the amount of cargo that passes through the airport is down (by 7 percent and 4 percent, respectively) compared to last year, there's still a lot of sales tax generated at the airport and fees to be gotten out of nearby businesses.

"If we are annexed by the city of Spokane, structurally it won't have any impact at all," says Todd Woodard, Spokane International Airport's spokesman. "We are jointly owned by the city and the county -- so we don't have an opinion either way."

Tenants at the airport, however, will feel the annexation on their pocketbooks.

"We estimate there will be an increase of about $15,000 in fees annually, on utilities and taxes, natural gas and telephones if we are annexed by the city," says Woodard. "That increase, of course, would have to be returned to the individual tenant."

Fixing the Comp Plan

In the meantime, the county is going ahead with a series of public hearings on specific map and policy changes to its comprehensive plan.

In June, the activist groups 1,000 Friends of Washington and the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane won a case they brought before the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The groups accused the county commissioners of making 72 changes with large impacts to the comprehensive plan in the fall of 2001, without holding public hearings. The Hearings Board agreed.

In July, the Hearings Board ruled the county out of compliance on seven out of 15 comprehensive plan-related complaints raised by the city of Spokane.

Throughout both cases, the county commissioners maintained that they had heard and taken into consideration thousands of comments to the comprehensive plan.

"These hearings concern the annual update of the comprehensive plan that we have to do, but they are also a response to some of the demands of the Hearings Board," says Tim Lawhead, senior planner with the county.

Some of the hotter issues on the agenda are Spokane Rock Product's attempt to change the zoning of 50 acres located at Havana and Eighth Avenue from low-density residential to mineral land, allowing the company to expand its operations there. This change has been protested by residents in the mainly single-family housing area.

In the Glenrose area, residents are trying to put a stop to a proposed 100-house development in what they call a semi-rural area.

And let's not forget the city's continuous battle with the county over its Urban Growth Area -- one of the complaints originally raised by the city of Spokane.

When the county adopted its comprehensive plan in August 2001, it set the city's Urban Growth Area to follow the existing city limits.

This, say city administrators, effectively hampers the city's ability to expand as its population is growing.

But the county has maintained that the city can grow by in-fill, developing vacant lots and optimizing zoning of already existing lots within the city.

"The urban growth area is definitely an issue," says Lawhead. "The county commissioners are trying to negotiate that with the city."

The city and the county may get help from the State Office of Community Development (OCD) in settling this issue once and for all.

"The city has been asking for mediation, and they have outlined several options," says Sharon Wallace, of the OCD. "But both the city and the county would have to participate in the process."

The city's planning director, John Mercer, says he has just heard back from the county commissioners on this.

"They have agreed to the meditation. But there's no date set yet. The first step would be to agree on who the mediator would be."

"We'll be there and provide testimony to the county," says Mercer. "We just hope they'll rethink their decision on the urban growth area. If you don't have one, a good example of what can happen is what is happening on the West Plains, where we now have a fight over the same piece of land because it's not a designated growth area for us or for the city of Airway Heights. Having an urban growth area assigned to a municipality gives some predictability to what can happen to that land within the next 20 years." n

The county comprehensive plan hearings begin on Sept. 26 from 9:30 am-1 pm, and continue on Oct. 2 from 4-8 pm and on Oct. 3 from noon-4 pm. All hearings are held at the Commissioners Assembly Room on the lower level of the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway Ave. Written comments -- which must be received before Oct. 4 at 5 pm -- can be mailed to Spokane County Public Works Building, Division of Planning, PWK-2-LRP, 1116 W. Broadway Ave., Spokane, WA 99260-0240. Call: 477-2294, or visit: