by Pia K. Hansen

Spokane County finds itself in a situation similar to the city, but with a few advantages. Not only is the county designated as the lead agency in the area's growth management efforts, but it also has a lot more land available than the city does.

Next week, a series of public hearings will be held where residents of the county will be able to provide feedback on the county's proposed comp plan, which has yet to be approved by the county commissioners.

Just as in the city, residents in the county have already had many opportunities to provide input on the plan. But to make absolutely certain no one can accuse the county government of trying to exclude input from anyone, last week the county commissioners unanimously approved of a mailer to be sent to the owners of the 90,000 parcels located in the unincorporated area. So far, however, the level of controversy surrounding the city's plan has not been shared by the county -- perhaps because there is a significant amount of growth planned for there.

Throughout the entire process, the county and the city have collaborated on issues such as building density and zoning issues, and the county's comp plan resembles the city's quite a bit.

"We started with the same type of concept as the city, and that is what we call mixed-use centers," says Spokane County planner Paul Jensen. "We had the same start, and our plan features the same kind of fabric, if you will."

It also features some new components, especially in the rural parts of the county. "The rural conservation designation is a new component," says Jensen. "There, we'll have a 20-acre minimum lot size, and a component called clustering which has been received fairly well by those who understand it. These are the most sensitive areas, where we would be much better off requiring large green areas and clustering of residences. Let's say you own 100 acres with a sensitive area on it. You could put 10 units [of housing] on the 20 acres where you can build and leave the rest of the area alone." Sensitive areas are typically waterways or wetlands.

Another new designation is limited development areas, which are typically areas along the major routes, which have developed over time, so they already have commercial, industrial and residential uses.

"The designation simply recognizes these developments -- and we expect to see a limited expansion of those areas in the future," says Jensen. Good examples are the areas around the Mead Airport and Liberty Lake (the part that is not incorporated into the city of Liberty Lake).

"Finally there are the rural activity centers, they are the centers and corridors of the city gone country," says Jensen. "Here people want to be able to build a gas station and provide traditional services like food and a place for residents to go get a pizza and go get a movie without going all the way into town." The small communities in Four Lakes and Chattaroy are good examples of this designation.

County Planning Director Michael Needham insists there has been a lot of collaboration on the county's plan, not only with the city of Spokane, but also with other smaller towns and communities in the area.

"We meet regularly, and we open up our plans for their input. We ask what they have in mind for specific areas, and we try to anticipate where there may be a conflict, and then get together and talk about that," he says.

Just like in the city, the comprehensive plan for the county changes the land use designation, and following those changes zoning may change, too.

"Zoning is what most people come into contact with because they want a building permit," says Needham, "and, we ask, 'How is your land zoned?' " He adds that over the years, the county has received a few hundred comments on future zoning.

"Overall, there is more focus around the urban growth area boundary than there is over anything," says Needham. "People want to know, 'Am I in, and if I'm in, what does that mean?'

"Sometimes in order to achieve sensible growth management, some places are going to have heavy use assigned to them and some are going to have less," says Needham. "You don't want industrial developments sprinkled like salt and pepper all over the county. If you have residential areas, you better have services close to them, so you don't have people traveling thousands and thousands of miles just to do their business."

But if the zoning changes for land where there is already a business, the county is not going to come out and tear it down.

"It's called non-conforming use. That means they will have some limits to what they can do with the property in the future," says Needham, who adds that appeal is an option and special permission may be granted by the hearing examiner.

"If you think your property is going to be compromised in any way by any plan, come down here right away -- it's free, I mean, you already paid for it through your taxes."

Public hearings on Spokane County's comprehensiveplan will be held on Wednesday, May 2, at East Valley High School, 15711 E. Wellesley; on Thursday, May 3, at Northwood Middle School, 13120 N. Pittsburg and on Tuesday, May 8, at the Airway Heights Community Center, 13120 W. 13th Avenue. All meetings begin with an open house at 3:30 pm followed by the hearing at 4 pm. Call: 477-2294.

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