A group of businesspeople concerned about how growth management could affect the potential for economic growth here is spearheading a painstaking look at industrial land included within the interim urban growth boundary established in the growth management process.
Applying criteria that businesses planning a new facility would use to evaluate locations, and using Spokane Countys geographic information system to look at parcels precisely, group members say they have developed exact maps and a screening process that will provide valuable information on how developable industrial properties really are.
The effort started about a year ago when the Spokane Area and Spokane Valley chambers of commerce organized a growth-management impact committee.
Growth management could hurt the business environment if the business community is not involved, says Dan Kirschner, public affairs director for the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. We needed to bring businesspeople together to let decision makers know the potential effect of their decisions.
The group includes representatives from large companies here such as Telect Inc., the Hewlett-Packard Co. division thats now part of Agilent Technologies, Boeing Co., and Avista Corp., plus members of the Spokane Home Builders Association, and representatives of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, says Bob Mansfield, manager of external relations at Avista and chairman of the committee.
Mansfield says the group wants to inform businesses about Growth Management Act decisions so they can raise concerns as the city of Spokane and Spokane County wrap up the growth management planning process, rather than after that process is completed.
Civic leaders have placed top priority on attracting and retaining companies that provide family-wage jobs, and the growth management group focused its attention on making sure enough industrial land would be available to meet the needs of such companies, he says.
In May, the group formed a technical subcommittee of engineers, planners, and economic-development officials who have expertise in analyzing and designing industrial sites. Spokane County planners, who were re-evaluating the interim urban growth boundary, collaborated with the private group, says John Mercer, assistant deputy director of the countys long-range planning division. The technical subcommittee began meeting at the countys long-range planning offices.
Mike Taylor, president of Taylor Engineering, says he and other members of the subcommittee first looked at the largest block of land that had been identified as available for industrial use in the next 20 yearsa roughly 7,500-acre portion of the West Plains.
The results of that analysis showed we thought we had more land to develop than we truly do, says Kirschner, at the chamber.
An urban growth boundary that doesnt include adequate land could become a noose for growth, he says. We dont want to draw the line too tightly because of faulty assumptions.
The technical committee will look at other areas next, eventually evaluating all industrial land in the county with the same criteria.
Analyzing the land
Taylor; Stewart Deysenroth, a principal at Spokanes Adams & Clark Inc.; and Joe Tortorelli, economic-development director at Avista, used their experience in finding and designing industrial sites and criteria from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research institute, to develop a list of questions that typically would be asked in a site-selection process.
Taylor says the list included objective criteria, such as whether the land was within 1,000 feet of water, sewer, and public roads; whether it was within two miles of the highway; whether it was at least two acres in size; and whether it had physical features such as wetlands or rock outcroppings that could limit development. Other criteria were more subjective, such as whether the location might be considered prestigious, and whether an upscale entrance that would give clients a good first impression could be developed.
The criteria were fed into the countys geographic information systema computer system that stores and evaluates data about locations and compiles maps containing complex informationto find which parcels met the criteria. The system drew up maps that showed how developable each parcel of land was according to the technical subcommittees criteria.
The group ranked the property in four tiers, ranging from immediately developable land to land that could not be developed at all. The county added a fifth tier to recognize land that isnt developable now but could become developable in the future, says Bruce Hunt, a county geographic information system planner.
The Growth Management Act requires that counties and cities have urban growth boundaries that include a 20-year supply of land for future development. Taylor says that not all land within the final boundary needs to be developable right now.
The groups screening found that only about 2,600 acres of the 7,500 acres identified as potential industrial land on the West Plains were actually ready for development now, Taylor says.
Those properties, identified as tier one, meet all the objective criteria, from having proper zoning, to access to roads, and sewer and water service, to suitable geologic conditions, such as not having wetlands or cliffs that would preclude development.
About 200 acres of the West Plains area were classified as tier two. Those properties lacked only one of the criteria that were used to identify developable land, Taylor says. For example, a sites size, location, and geologic condition all might be suitable for development, but it might be more than 1,000 feet from the nearest sewer line. Tier two parcels are prime targets for public investments to bring needed services to them, and likely will be developable within 10 years, the countys Mercer says.
About 1,000 acres had additional challenges to development, and are classified as tier three, says Hunt at the county. Tier three properties might lack roads, sewer or water service, but also fail to meet one or more other criteria deemed necessary for development. They might have drainage problems, or unstable soils, but effective mitigation could come about within the next 20 years that would make those lands developable.
Hunt says about 1,300 acres were classified by the county as tier four, which includes land that isnt developable now, but could become so. This category includes parcels of less than two acres that are too small for industrial use, but could be grouped together or added onto adjacent larger parcels, Hunt says. It also includes land that is the site of buildings that are used for other uses, but that could be redeveloped in the next 20 years, he says.
About 2,400 acres of the 7,000 acres of potential industrial land isnt developable and never will be, Taylor says. This includes wetlands, steep slopes, and rock outcroppings; and land within the airport overlay zone, which includes no-build areas, areas with height restrictions on buildings, and places where noise and vibrations from low-flying planes could disrupt some types of business.
Using the results
By creating an evaluation process based on criteria developed by people who select and design industrial sites, the growth management committee hopes to influence decisions about the final urban growth boundarynot through rhetoric, but with solid information, Kirschner says.
At the county, Mercer says the long-term planning division is trying to improve its processes and was glad to be able to refine its analysis with additional expertise from the private sector.
This project comes at a really timely point in the process, he says. City and county growth boundaries are being fine-tuned now, and the final lines should be drawn sometime next spring when the county commissioners adopt a new comprehensive plan.
Mercer and Charlie Dotson, planning director for the city of Spokane, both say their departments will use the process developed by the joint-chamber groups technical subcommittee to screen all industrial land in Spokane County. The analysis will try to find out if enough industrial land has been set aside to meet expected needs and to determine if that total includes a broad range of sizes and locations that could meet many types of industrial uses, Dotson says.
Mercer says the work that has been done indicates additional large parcels of at least 80 acres each may be needed, plus additional land that would meet needs for potential business parks.
Using the private sectors evaluation process as officials draw the final urban growth boundary should make the boundary more acceptable to the business community, says Avistas Mansfield. He says if the countys actions seem arbitrary, complaints and lawsuits would arise. The definite criteria of the subcommittees process can help show that the line wasnt arbitrary, but was drawn with the help of engineers and industrial site designers from the business community.
The results of the analysis process also can guide the city and county as they plan to expand water and sewer service or build roads.
We can be much more strategic in our capital investment than we were before, Dotson says.
By seeing which areas need services to become developable, the city and county can focus their resources there to encourage development and get a better return on the public funds they invest in infrastructure, he says.
Taylor says the land evaluation also can be used by economic-development officials and companies looking to build here. A company, a real estate agent, or a business recruiter easily can locate land that is ready for industrial development right now and has the characteristics desired in a site. He says that when an economic-development agency is trying to woo a large employer here, it must answer questions quickly.
The evaluation done by the technical subcommittee provides a prescreening that supplies those answers and can help a site selection committee in the early stages of its research.
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