Spokane Journal of Business

Growth Management finale may be delayed

City is taking second look at whether it can handle growth in interim boundary

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Years of Growth Management Act planning were to culminate late this spring with the finalization of urban growth area boundaries here and the presentation to the public of new comprehensive plans for both the city of Spokane and Spokane County.

But prospects for achieving that schedule now may be dimming somewhat.

City and county planning officials this month are scrambling to meet the latest order by the states Growth Management Hearings Board to come back to the table by Feb. 5 with sufficient documentation to support the citys interim urban growth area boundary (IUGA) they authored nearly two years ago. That IUGA was appealed by landowners who questioned whether the city really could accommodate expected urban growth within that area. The hearings board subsequently told the county that it hadnt adequately documented how the city was going to be able to handle that growth.

The county, which has overall responsibility for Growth Management Act planning, has been out of compliance with the act for more than a year. Rather than doing what it expected to do this springthat is, approving a final urban growth area (FUGA) boundary and writing a new comprehensive planit is revisiting the IUGA process as ordered by the hearings board. The city, meanwhile, has pulled all its planners off the task of writing its own new comprehensive land-use plan to do its part in complying with the order.

Currently, city planners are re-checking their land quantity and capacity studies, which determine exactly how much developable land exists within the designated urban area and how much growth that land can handle, and will report back to the hearings board at the early February meeting. City Planning Director Charlie Dotson says the city also is incorporating new, better data into the process, from a geographical information system that became available after it did its first analysis two years ago.

As of late last week, he said it wasnt known yet whether the reanalysis would point to any needed changes in the IUGA. His department was expected to tell the city Plan Commission about its findings yesterday, and hold a public hearing on the matter Jan. 27.

State and county officials say that if the citys reanalysis still supports the IUGA approved in 1997, there may still be a chance that the county could meet its goal of having an FUGA boundary approved by the Spokane County commissioners as early as May or June, essentially completing the chief Growth Management Act task. However, if the numbers show that the IUGA was drawn improperly, another month or two of work and public hearings likely would be needed to correct the IUGA, after which work could recommence on an FUGA and the corresponding comprehensive plans.

Were still very hopeful that Spokane County is able to hit that spring schedule, says Dennis Dellwo, presiding officer of the three-person hearings board. The board, however, hasnt been pleased with the countys pace so far. It first asked the county back in December 1997 to go back and demonstrate how the city arrived at its numbers in preparing the IUGA, but the county has consistently missed its deadlines for doing so.

He says the hearings board has few powers to punish the county for its tardiness, except to ask Gov. Gary Locke to step in, and wouldnt necessarily be motivated to do so anyway. We have no desire to do that unless weve seen that the county hasnt tried to get its job done.

Meanwhile, the local Growth Management Steering Committee, a body made up of government officials from the county and its municipalities that has overseen the planning process since 1993, already must rework its schedule.

Last fall, the committee began hearing proposals from each city in the county in preparation for finalizing the urban growth areas. It was slated to hear from the city of Spokane and Spokane County on a proposed city FUGA this month and next, respectively.

That just isnt going to happen, says Ken Pelton, a city planner assigned to growth management planning. The boundary could end up being very different based on the reanalysis, he says.

John Mercer, the countys point man on growth management planning, says the steering committee will have to develop a new schedule based on what the hearings board determines after seeing the citys revised land quantity analysis. In a Dec. 17 affidavit to the hearings board, Mercer said that if the citys reanalysis doesnt support the current IUGA, it might be mid-June before the county commissioners could approve a repaired IUGA.

The boards Dellwo says that approving an FUGA shouldnt take too much additional time once the IUGA questions are resolved. Also, much work already has been done by both the city and county on their respective comprehensive plans, so its still conceivable that everything could be done by early to mid summer. However, some people close to the process privately say a fall completion might be more realistic.

  • Paul Read

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