Take Action: Spokane County is Acting Improperly Regarding the Sundance Meadows Development

Author(s): 
Chrys Ostrander

Before and after: Picture of the downed pine trees at the former Sundance Golf Course.

All the Ponderosa Pines on the former golf course were cut down in January and February 2021 even before the preliminary plat was approved.

The Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group believes that Spokane County continuing to process permit applications furthering a proposed 475-unit housing development on 88 acres in the Seven Mile Urban Growth Area that the City of Spokane designates as Open Space is a blatant violation of the Growth Management Act (GMA).

The Working Group is urging the public to contact Martha Thornton, Clerk for the Growth Management Steering Committee at (509) 477-7155 or mthornton@spokanecounty.org and ask her when the Steering Committee plans to take up the issue of resolving the inconsistency between the City and County Comprehensive Plans.

Read on for details.

On February 3rd, 2021, Chrys Ostrander testified on behalf of the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group at a public hearing conducted by Spokane County on a Preliminary Plat application that had been submitted by Sundance Meadows, LLC of Otis Orchards which was seeking to develop the former 18-hole golf course. The Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group's interest in this property stems from the fact that 100% of the property is classified by the USDA NRCS as "prime agricultural soil" and includes a well that is capable of irrigating the entire property.

On March 16, the Hearings Examiner for Spokane County, David Hubert, issued his decision (attached) granting conditional approval of the preliminary plat, paving the way for the development construction to proceed.

On page 10 of the Hearing Examiner’s decision document, he indicates upon which applicable development statutes and regulations he has based his decision. "The Hearing Examiner takes notice of the Spokane County Comprehensive Plan ("Comprehensive Plan"), the Spokane County Zoning Code (SCZC), the Spokane County Code (SCC), other applicable development statutes and regulations, and previous land use decisions for the site and area." This is patently false! Since the property is in a Joint Planning Area and the City of Spokane and Spokane County have equal jurisdiction over planning issues, it's obvious that in this case the City's Comprehensive Plan qualifies as among the "other applicable development statutes and regulations" he should have taken notice of, but he has chosen to wholly ignore the City's Comprehensive Plan. This despite the fact that Mr. Ostrander specifically cited, as did at least one other testifier in her testimony, as a matter of law, the relevant section of the Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.100: "Comprehensive plans— Must be coordinated."

The GMA states emphatically that the Comprehensive Plans of counties and the Comprehensive Plans of cities within those counties must be coordinated and consistent (RCW 36.70A.100). As it stands, the Comprehensive Plans of the City of Spokane and Spokane County are not consistent with each other because the County's comprehensive plan designates the property as "Low-density Residential" while the City designates it as "Open Space."

RCW 36.70A.100
Comprehensive plans—Must be coordinated.
The comprehensive plan of each county or city that is adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040 [the GMA] shall be coordinated
with, and consistent with, the comprehensive plans adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040 of other counties or cities with
which the county or city has, in part, common borders or related regional issues.


Spokane County is ignoring all of this and proceeding according to the much abused principle that "possession is nine-tenths of the law." That principle does not stand in this case because it only holds in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary. Clearly, the unambiguous language in the GMA, the Joint Planning Area status of the UGA in which the property is located as well as testimony that the Farmland Preservation Working Group gave during the public hearing on the developer's plat application on February 3rd specifically referencing RCW 36.70A.100, there certainly is clear and compelling testimony and documentation. Spokane County should suspend all proceedings related to applications and permits pertaining to the proposed development until the required public process for bringing the respective comprehensive plans into compliance with each other has been initiated and completed.

The Growth Management Steering Committee is an interlocal entity made up of elected officials and is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Growth Management Act for the entire Spokane region. The Steering Committee is intended to serve as a regional forum for urban growth issues and growth management including overseeing joint planning within UGAs. It’s supposed to meet on the 3rd Wednesday of every month but it hasn't met once since October 2020. Meanwhile, development planning for the 88 acres of Open Space in Seven Mile forges ahead illegally and developers eye our remaining arable lands, so easy to build upon, with greedy anticipation. They can see that our local governments are willing to ignore the law in order to accommodate their voracious appetite for building sites.

Local government is supposed to act lawfully and protect residents' environment and quality of life, but when it comes to overseeing responsible growth, it's obvious both the City and the County are failing to do those things.

For more information, please visit the Working Group's website:
https://spokanefarmland.org/

Edition: 
March, 2021