In a move to curb sprawl, the Spokane city council Monday imposed new prohibitions on extending water and sewer service to potentially contested developments outside city limits until any legal challenges are resolved.
The city council measure was a response to a controversial county expansion last summer that the state Growth Management Board eventually ruled improper. Spokane County commissioners had moved 4,100 acres of rural land on the fringes of existing development into the Urban Growth Area.
The state’s Growth Hearings board ruled that the move was inappropriate and ordered new hearings to be held, but in the meantime, developers quickly filed applications to build in the new areas.
Because of state law, such projects will be considered vested even if the county’s expansion is later overturned.
City council-member Jon Snyder pushed the measure that he says will close that loophole in the system, by keeping the city from extending water and sewer lines to the newly added Urban Growth Area until any legal challenges have been resolved.
Councilmember Amber Waldref supported the proposal. She said at the council meeting, "when the county in my mind, improperly adds land to the UGA, and expects the city to serve it with water and sewer automatically, that just doesn’t engender a lot of confidence.” Supporters also testified that city services are being stretched too thin trying to accommodate questionable growth in the county.
Those who testified against the proposal included developers, who said it would impede growth and hurt the local economy. County Commissioner Todd Mielke testified that delaying extension of sewer lines could cause problems for the county as it tries to meet requirements federal standards in dealing with septic systems.
Mielke: “We have looked at how to bring the Little Spokane River watershed into compliance. And that means converting those septic systems on to sewer. The largest area where you see an expansion of the urban area is where we know those septic systems will fail before 20 years, and it’s a barrier to keep us from complying with the Clean Water Act."
The measure passed by a 4-2 vote. Councilmen Mike Allen and Mike Fagan opposed it.