Spokane Journal of Business

Court upholds ruling that Spokane County violated Growth Management Act rules

Decision states that public should have been notified

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A state appellate court panel has ruled Spokane County failed to notify the public about a change made to population projections, resulting in a violation of the Growth Management Act.

The decision upheld an earlier ruling made by the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. A conglomeration of neighborhood groups and county residents filed the complaint against the county and submitted it for review to the hearings board.

A conglomeration of groups calling itself the Neighborhood Alliance and consisting of Futurewise, the Five Mile Prairie Neighborhood Association, the Southgate Neighborhood Council, and the Glenrose Association initiated the review, court records say.

The Washington state Department of Commerce and the state’s Department of Transportation, joined the petition, court records say.

“We conclude that the county’s failure to notify the public of its increased population projection violates the GMA’s public participation requirement,” the Washington state Court of Appeals Division III panel said in its decision.

In the process of planning for urban growth expansion, the county prepared environmental impact statements in 2011 and 2012. Both statements used a 20-year population growth projection—from 2011 to 2031—of 113,541 residents within Spokane County, court records say.

But on July 18, 2013, the Spokane County Board of County Commissioners added 4,125 acres of land to Spokane County’s urban growth area and increased the population growth projection from 113,541 to 121,112 without notifying the public.

Urban growth area boundaries are intended to show where urban growth is expected to occur over the next 20 years. Spokane County published the last public notice inviting public comment on the proposed changes to the urban growth area on Feb. 3, 2013, court records say.

The hearings board’s conclusion, upheld up by the appellate court, removes the 4,125 acres of land and restores the original population growth back to the 113,541 figure. “The importance of the proper sizing of urban areas is a key component of reducing sprawl and limiting the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land,” the hearings board says.

During oral arguments before the court, Spokane County attorney David Hubert “conceded that the county drew its desired urban growth area map and then increased the population growth projection to 12,270 to fit the chosen area,” the appeals court writes.

For its part, Spokane County argued that the hearings board erred in its conclusion that the population growth projection of 121,112 constituted a significant change in the proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan, court records say.

The county also argued it was exempt from the GMA’s public participation requirement because a wide array of related proposals had been subject to extensive environmental impact studies. The Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board concluded the exemption didn’t apply because the population projection of 121,112 wasn’t within the range of alternatives considered in the environmental impact statement, the appeals court panel said.

“In addition to finding that the increased population projection had not been subjected to adequate public participation processes, the board also found that the resolution violated other goals of the acts, including the reduction of urban sprawl and providing for adequate public planning for public services and facilities,” the appeals court writes.

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