Whitman County hopes revision will put center on fast track, allay Moscow’s concernsWhat does Latah County have to fear? Plenty.
Les Wigen bounced like a child in a candy store Monday.
The 69-year-old Whitman County commissioner was anxious to sign a revised ordinance designed to streamline the process for development in the county by allowing a combined public hearing on appeals and conditional use permits.
“It’s a great day for me, personally,” Wigen said. “It gives us a chance in Whitman County to see growth in the Pullman-Moscow corridor. That’s our economic engine out there.”
What had Wigen and the other commissioners so excited was the possibility the new law will allow the Hawkins Companies to move faster in building a 600,000-square-foot shopping center in the corridor just west of the Idaho state line.
“It’s a great opportunity to expand our tax base, to expand our growth,” Wigen said. “I will be excited when I see some development between Pullman and the state line.”
The move toward the new law started in March when the city of Moscow filed an appeal claiming the Hawkins development will have an adverse effect on the surrounding environment.
Moscow raised concerns in public comments about how much water the development will draw from the region’s diminishing aquifer, stormwater drainage into Paradise Creek and the possibility Moscow police and fire services will have to respond outside city limits. Those concerns formed the basis of the city’s appeal under the State Environmental Policy Act.
The Hawkins Companies in April asked for permission to submit a new application it hopes will address the concerns raised by the city of Moscow. As of Monday, the county planning office hadn’t received any new paperwork from the developer.
The appeal prompted Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy to review the county’s SEPA procedures. He discovered county law required the SEPA appeal to be heard by the county commissioners, but the developer also had to go through a public hearing for a conditional use permit before it could build. All development in the Moscow-Pullman corridor is subject to a conditional use permit under a law signed by the commissioners in November.
A conditional use permit allows the county some measure of control over development, as each proposal can be evaluated individually. If the county doesn’t like aspects of a particular proposal, the conditional use permit can be denied.
Tracy was concerned about developers being required to go through two public hearings. State law allows for only one hearing on a proposed development, so Tracy suggested the two processes be combined in a single hearing by the Board of Adjustment. The commissioners agreed it was a good idea.
“There’s not many times that I’ll say the state did something right with regard to regulations,” said Commissioner Greg Partch.
All three commissioners lauded the new law as a way to help get development approved faster. Jerry Finch also saw the chance to take a jab at naysayers in Moscow who oppose the Hawkins development.
“I think this will help Whitman County and Latah County in the long run,” Finch said. “I don’t understand the fear on the other side.”
* What happened
The Whitman County commissioners approved a revised ordinance allowing for one combined public hearing on development in the Pullman-Moscow corridor.
* What it means
All development in the corridor is allowed only by conditional use permit. Conditional use permits must go through a public hearing by the Whitman County Board of Adjustment. If an appeal is filed against the development under the State Environmental Policy Act, the appeal hearing will be combined with the conditional use permit hearing.
* What’s next
The county is waiting for the Hawkins Companies to refile its application to build a 600,000-square-foot shopping center in the corridor just west of the state line. The shopping center would be the first proposal to use the new process.
* Why you should care:
The commissioners believe the new law will allow a 600,000-square-foot development just west of the state line to take shape faster than it would under the old law. The development would be the largest in the area — seven times larger than the Wheatland Mall and about twice the size of the Palouse Mall.
The business community has let the lunatics take over the asylum and any corridor development marks the beginning of the end of decades of Moscow retail dominance on the Palouse. New stores will want to be near the Hawkins Companies shopping center and there is little room left on Moscow's west side to accomodate them.
To the barking moonbats, the corridor is just more "capitalistic urban sprawl" that will destroy delicate bullfrog habitats. More importantly, the corridor represents a real threat to vegetarian Thoreau readers views of scenic Tomer Butte. Why? Because it represents the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Moscow City Council's head as they decide on a Wal-Mart Supercenter. If the Hawkins development goes in and the Supercenter doesn't, there is going to be a big sucking sound in Moscow and voters are going to call for the council's heads come next election.