Land-use plan gets new hearing-Citizens groups persuade board to make county revisit blueprint

Amy Cannata
Staff writer, Spokesman-Review

May 29, 2002 - Spokane County must hold another hearing on its comprehensive land-use plan.

The Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board made that ruling last week, just moments after hearing two citizens groups' appeal of the plan.

Spokane County commissioners decided Tuesday not to appeal the hearings board decision, and to hold the hearing in September, and then give final approval to the plan -- again -- just days later.

The 1,000 Friends of Washington and the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County argued that substantial changes had been made to the county's comprehensive plan without giving the public an adequate chance to comment on them.

The hearings board agreed.

Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin called the changes "dinky" Tuesday, adding that the county needs to take care of the required hearing and finalize the plan as soon as possible.

The plan will guide the growth and development in Spokane County for the next 20 years.

"This needs to be wrapped up," McCaslin said.

Commissioners held three public hearings before making more than 50 changes to land-use maps and policies. But no hearings were held to allow the public to comment on those changes.

Assistant civil prosecutor Rob Binger advised county commissioners last year that no further hearings were necessary.

Tuesday he told commissioners that they could just go through the motions of a hearing without really considering the testimony, and still satisfy the Growth Management Hearings Board's requirements.

"What it boils down to is that you have a series of never-ending hearings or you tell people at the last hearing, `You know what folks, we're not going to do anything with what you say because we don't want to have another hearing,"' he said.

That's the type of attitude that got Spokane County in trouble in the first place, said Bonnie Mager, spokeswoman for the Neighborhood Alliance.

"If they are basically going to say that they are going to ignore the public input and go through with the changes, then I think that is very arrogant," Mager said.

"That would be a mistake, and would continue to undermine the faith that the public has in their elected officials," she said.

The county commissioners said they would ask the Spokane County Planning Commission to hold another hearing on the plan this summer, prior to a hearing before the county commissioners.

The city of Spokane, in its appeal of the county's comprehensive plan, also argued that Spokane County did not hold enough hearings. A decision on that appeal, which raised several other issues, isn't due until July.

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