Stevens County planners get time for study - Commissioners again impose six-month development moratorium

John Craig
The Spokesman-Review Staff writer

July 17, 2004

Stevens County, WA - Stevens County commissioners, facing constituents who want land-use controls but don't like zoning, are responding with ordinances to regulate only the kind of projects that generate broad criticism.

This week, for the second time in two months, commissioners have imposed a six-month development moratorium to give county planners time to develop regulations. Last month, the issue was cell phone towers; this time, it's group homes.

The targeted approach allows commissioners to avoid broader restrictions on property rights that would come with zoning. In the unincorporated portion of the county, only the Loon Lake area has zoning.

In most rural portions of the county, zoning traditionally has been about as welcome as a skunk at a picnic. But growth has brought unfamiliar, urban-style projects that also haven't been warmly received.

Cingular Wireless outraged Chewelah-area residents earlier this summer with a plan to build a 190-foot cellular telephone tower on the floor of the scenic Colville Valley. Dozens of residents persuaded commissioners to develop rules for future towers, but were too late to stop the Cingular tower or another one already under construction nearby for Verizon.

This week's moratorium on group homes, or "congregate residences," was inspired by a proposal in March to build a job-training center for troubled young adults in the rural Rice area, 13 miles south of Kettle Falls.

Scores of residents objected to the plan by Colville-based Bethel Christian Life Center, which operates drop-in youth centers in Colville, Kettle Falls and Deer Park.

Bethel said in environmental documents that the job center eventually might house up to 160 people in dormitories and tents on a wooded, 75-acre site 13 miles south of Kettle Falls. But board President Lloyd Ward said the organization already was scaling back its plans, and would start with just 10 young adults in a house with live-in supervisors.

Bethel recently abandoned the proposal entirely. The group would be subject to the moratorium and whatever ordinance commissioners eventually adopt if it revived its plans.

Ward said Bethel eventually hopes to build conventional homes on its Rice property, in which residents might receive small numbers of job trainees as guests. Meanwhile, the group will employ that strategy in existing homes around the county, he said.

"We will work on one or two kids at a time in private homes," Ward said.

Ward said he regrets that the moratorium may affect traditional group homes, such as state-licensed facilities for elderly or mentally handicapped people.

"They're firing a shotgun and the pellets could hit a lot of other places," he said. "I'm really sorry about that."

The moratorium ordinance says it applies to shelters, convents, monasteries, dormitories, and fraternity or sorority houses, but not jails, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels or lodging houses.

Commissioners have scheduled a public meeting at 3 p.m. Aug. 17 to find out what kind of rules people want for group homes. The meeting will be in the Agriculture and Trade Center at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 317 W. Astor, in Colville.

For more information, call (509) 684-2401.



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