Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thursday Three-Fer, Part I

I highly recommend picking up a copy of today’s Whitman County Gazette (I do every week). There’s some great stuff in there.

First, some excerpts from Thinh Nguyen’s excellent story on the corridor development:

Hawkins seeks redo on state line project

Hawkins Companies of Boise, developer for the proposed state line retail center east of Pullman, wants a new start on its path to county approval of its site amid a related appeal by the city of Moscow.

The timing of a possible new environmental impact checklist from the company may allow it to take advantage of a streamlined conditional use permit process now under review for the county while it builds a stronger case against any appeals.

The city of Moscow’s current appeal – to the county’s finding that Hawkins’ environmental impact checklist was adequate – could be thrown out if the county withdraws its findings as requested by Hawkins.

“That appeal would be dead,” County Planner Mark Bordsen said.

In an April 7 letter from Buck & Gordon, Seattle law firm for Hawkins, the developer requested the county withdraw its Feb. 1 mitigated determination of non-significance (M-DNS) on its State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist. The M-DNS allowed the project to move forward while requiring additional studies and mitigating actions to possible environmental impacts.

The Hawkins Companies request to drop the M-DNS come after Moscow waived its right to an appeal hearing within 30 days in order for it to await possible changes to the SEPA appeal process and conditional use permitting. The development requires a conditional use permit for the north Pullman-Moscow Corridor zone.

The letter from the Seattle law firm said Moscow’s appeal is “without merit,” but conceded as new SEPA checklist would allow the county “to more effectively respond to the city’s concerns.”

Hawkins is expected to submit new environmental information, which its law firm said was being prepared when the original SEPA checklist was submitted. The letter stated the additional information would have reached the county before Moscow’s appeal.

Bordsen said he might make a determination on Hawkins’ latest request this week. If he withdraws his initial findings, he said he does not know what Hawkins will do next. The original SEPA checklist could be amended or revised entirely.

“I’m not sure what form this is going to take,” Bordsen said.

What it may apparently take is more time, which may give the county more breathing room to make procedure adjustments to SEPA appeals and conditional use permits.

To align the county ordinances with state codes, the county prosecutor has recommended combining the SEPA appeal hearing with the conditional user permit hearing. He also recommended bringing both hearings under the authority of the board of adjustment. A new option would allow for a hearing examiner if a board quorum is not available.

Currently, the board of county commissioners hears SEPA appeals. Combining the hearings on the same date with the same board is expected to streamline the process for gaining a conditional user permit.

“It is my opinion that our county ordinances need to be modified,” Prosecutor Denis Tracy said.

His recommendations, passed through the county commission, are to go before the county planning commission for a “prompt hearing and a prompt reply,” he discussed Monday afternoon with the county commissioners.

The county commission Monday afternoon granted the authority for board Chairman Jerry Finch to approve Tracy’s recommendations at a later date, expected to be yesterday afternoon, to give Tracy more time to prepare the final wording of his recommendations.

The planning commission has set a public hearing on the proposed code changes for April 24 at 7 p.m. in the Public Service Building in Colfax.

The county commission is requesting a recommendation from the planning commission the following day.

Tracy said the planning commission is required to look at the county commission’s requests and send a recommendation back to the county commission. The planning commission may approve the recommendations, disapprove them or take no position on them.

In any event, the county commission retains the final say to make changes.

Bordsen said with a public hearing on procedural changes to the SEPA appeal and conditional use permitting process, a best case scenario without snags could have the code changed by the end of next month.

As to Moscow’s SEPA appeal, as long as it stands and until the code is changed, the county commission remains the appellate body and is required to remain silent on the appeal.

Some very interesting legal machinations going on. Ultimately, we will win this battle against the interlopers.

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