Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

Growth control bill could compound housing woes

 

A bill that aims to weaken developer vesting rights and strengthen the power of appeals in regard to adjusting urban growth boundaries wouldn’t improve the state’s Growth Management Act. Instead, it has the potential to exacerbate the affordable housing shortage in Spokane County while driving residential development across the state line.

The measure, Senate Bill 5042, would put off the expansion of urban growth boundaries, in some cases, until appeals are resolved. Even if there aren’t appeals, the bill would delay adoption of those changes until a 60-day appeals period ends.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig, of Spokane, and prominent supporters here include Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm.

Supporters of the measure say that if urban growth boundaries are expanded in a flawed manner, there will be a rush by developers to vest their projects before the growth boundaries can be appealed.

Mumm says the measure simply respects the appeals process. If developers are allowed to vest development applications before appeals are resolved, it could render successful appeals meaningless, she contends. Such vested developments could result in “islands of density” with insufficient urban services, including streets, water, and schools, she contends.

Business and industry groups, such as Association of Washington Business and the Building Industry Association of Washington, say the problem with the bill is that it turns any appeal into an injunction, until the appeal is resolved by a governor-appointed panel or the court system—a process that they claim could take decades and contribute to housing shortages and rising costs.

While Mumm advocates for respecting the appeals process, we would argue that the expansion process that’s in place is what should be respected.

Rather than creating bills that foster uncertainty on the back end of urban growth boundary adjustments, attention should be focused on the front end. Any changes to the boundaries should be the result of the best workable compromise to begin with. It should go hand in hand with multijurisdictional planning for coordinated extensions of services to accommodate anticipated growth.

When developers and local land regulators don’t have certainty in land-use requirements, it drives up the cost of housing, warns BIAW’s Jan Himebaugh. For every $1,000 increase in the price of a new home in Washington state, it prices 2,500 families out of the homebuying market, she claims.

SB 5042 is intended in part to preserve certain rural lands from intensive development, but it doesn’t further other goals central to the Growth Management Act, which include encouraging infill development and ensuring there’s enough developable land for the next 20 years.

Liberty Lake-based developer Jim Frank contends the state has done little to see that regulations are in place that allow the kind of development the act envisions, and many local regulations prohibit accessory dwelling units, condominiums, and townhomes.

SB 5042 would only add to frustrations in Spokane County that are driving development to North Idaho, “where thousands of acres on the Rathdrum Prairie will be developed,” he claims.

The bill, which appeared headed for a full Senate hearing as of earlier this week, isn’t the vehicle to make the Growth Management Act work better or more equitably.