Recently surging commercial-development activity on the largely undeveloped West Plains will grind to a halt if Spokane County commissioners dont reduce the size of an area there in which residential construction is banned, a couple of real estate industry representatives with interests there contend.
They argue that the ban, mostly covering land zoned for light industrial but on which residential development had been allowed, encompasses an area much larger than is needed to protect Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base from residential encroachment, which largely is what led commissioners to enact the ban.
Its going to shut down everything on the West Plains if they dont (modify it) because no more retailers are going to go there. Its just a given, asserts Dick Vandervert, who owns one of Spokanes largest general contracting companies and is spearheading development of several large projects on the West Plains.
Pete Thompson, a commercial and industrial real estate specialist with Spokane-based Hawkins Edwards Inc., which is involved heavily in marketing property on the West Plains, says, I just think theyve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Todd Mielke, the only commissioner who could be reached for comment late last week, says he sympathizes with some of the frustrations, and believes that at least part of the land south of Interstate 90 covered by the ban probably should be reopened to residential development.
He adds, though, that those changes will take months to implement because they need to be done through a comprehensive plan update process, following completion of environmental and land-use studies and airport crash-zone revisions that are under way currently. He also says he doubts that any of the light-industrial-zoned land north of the freeway, and nearer to the airport, will be reopened to residential development.
One thing that those who are complaining seem slow to mention, Mielke contends, is that until a few years ago, commercial projects werent allowed in light-industrial-zoned land on the West Plains either, but that type of development isnt affected by the current ban.
Commissioners declared a temporary moratorium on residential development there last fall, after concerns were raised about how such activity was encroaching on airport crash zones and might impinge on Fairchilds operations. The commissioners then replaced and expanded that ban in March by adopting an interim regulation prohibiting such development over a larger area. The action partially reversed an earlier board decision that had opened up the light-industrial zone to a broad range of other commercial and residential uses.
The problem from real estate developers perspective is that most of the roughly 9,000 acres of light-industrial-zoned land in the countys unincorporated areas is located on the West Plains, but the demand for industrial space is weak to nonexistent.
John Pederson, assistant director of the county building and planning department, says the county has considered it prudent to keep a reserve of light-industrial land available for potential future users because once its gone, theres no getting it back.
One of the underlying questions from the perspective of some developers has been what constitutes an ample reserve of such land. Thompson has been tracking the absorption of light-industrial land on the West Plains for years, and estimates the county has a 116-year supply of light-industrial land if the absorption of such land by developers continues at the roughly 84-acres-per-year rate it has achieved over the last 10 years.
The area in which residential development now once again is prohibited encompasses most of the land on the north side of I-90 between Geiger Boulevard and Craig Road. It also includes a considerable, though lesser amount of land on the south side of the freeway stretching from near the Garden Springs interchange to beyond the Medical Lake interchange.
On the north side of I-90, the light-industrial-zoned land butts up against the city of Airway Heights eastern and southern boundaries and includes a site where Vandervert is nearly finished developing the first phase of a large apartment complex called Deer Creek Apartments.
He sent the commissioners a letter two months ago seeking clarification on whether hell be allowed to proceed with the second phase of that project, on which he said he already had spent $1.5 million on infrastructure work. He threatened in the letter to have the complex annexed to Airway Heights if the matter with the county isnt resolved satisfactorily.
He also warned the commissioners that extending the housing moratorium will, in all practicality kill commercial development on the West Plains. As soon as the retail community realizes what is happening and that there wont be any more (residential) rooftops there, then that will be the end of retail leasing in this area.
Vandervert owns about 400 acres on the West Plains, and is pursuing commercial and technology-park projects there. He says he understands and appreciates the need to protect the airport and Fairchild Air Force Base from residential encroachment, but says, You need to identify a reasonable overlay zone, and then remove the moratorium on everything else.
Thompson says he, too, supports the need to protect aviation and military operations there, particularly considering that Fairchild is the Spokane areas largest employer. In a letter to the commissioners, though, he says, Surely there is a reasonable balance between the current moratorium and a serious discussion of mixed use and smart planning.
Thompson not only markets property on the West Plains, but also owns development land there, including a 5-acre, light-industrial-zoned parcel just south of I-90 and west of Soda Road on which he says he hasnt had an inquiry from a prospective buyer in the 20 years hes owned it.
He argues that all of the affected land south of I-90 should be reopened to residential development, and has urged the commissioners to initiate some creative land-use planning to find a way to put long-vacant land there into productive use.
Contact Kim Crompton at (509) 344-1263 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE