Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Residents Squabble Over the Future of This Quaint Rural Community"

Today's Lewiston Tribune had a big front page spread of stories on the controversy over growth in Moscow. The Tribune and David Johnson, it seems, don't think anything exists north of Clarkston or west of Moscow except PARD and WSU. Nevertheless, there are some interesting quotes in the article.
Residents squabble over the future of this quaint rural community; The trouble with growth Everybody, it seems, has an agenda, but the debate over the future of Moscow boils down to one of economics versus aesthetics

On one side of the growth and development issue, we have CAVE people and BANANAs.

On the other side, there are PIMBYs and YIMBYs, not to be confused with NIMBYs.

Translation: CAVE people are Citizens Against Virtually Everything. They're often accused of teaming with BANANA types who want to Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

PIMBYs are people who blindly open their arms to development and shout, "Please In My Back Yard." They sometimes declare, "Yes In My Back Yard."

NIMBYs, of course, have long subscribed to the notion of Not In My Back Yard. But they can be on either side of the growth issue, depending on the nature of the proposed development.

Amid all this pejorative alphabet soup, there are also people who exhibit what's known as DBM, drawbridge mentality. They're usually rich rascals who move from mainstream America to places like rural Moscow to soak up the amenities and then pull up the drawbridge to fend off others seeking the same.

Few people in Moscow declare or admit allegiance to any of these acronym camps, but many suggest that others are devotees. And that, coupled with genuine concern about this university community's future, seems enough to fuel the growth debate for some time to come.

This, despite statistics that show Moscow has grown only slightly over the past several years and Latah County has actually lost population. It's the same story across the border where Pullman's population has grown a bit more than Moscow's, but Whitman County has lost even more residents than Latah County.

So the current debate seems to be more about economic growth. Aside from the few who'll admit to being CAVE people or BANANAs, most everyone within the fray say they want Moscow to prosper financially. The contention starts when someone asks, "How?"

"If we want to be a bedroom community for Pullman, Lewiston and Potlatch," warns Steve Busch, chairman of the growth-oriented Greater Moscow Alliance, "then we can write regulations to secure that."

"I've been a little perturbed by attempts to label us as anti-growth," counters Bruce Livingston, president of the Moscow Civic Association. "We want the community to grow in ways that don't change its character."

The two men are neighbors who are happy to shake hands over the shrubs between their yards.

"We had Bruce over for our Christmas open house," says Busch, co-owner of Busch Distributing.

"I really enjoyed it," says Livingston, a federal death row defense attorney.

Neither will call the other a PIMBY, YIMBY, BANANA or CAVE person.

But their views on growth and development, they concede, start on opposite sides of the fence. Common ground, to date, appears to be a narrow proposition.

Livingston's Moscow Civic Association was first to become part of the growth glossary here. While he and other members blanch at anti-growth labels, Busch and founders of the Greater Moscow Alliance admit their organization was formed to counter the MCA.

"I don't know that we'd back away from being called pro-growth," Busch said seven months ago when the GMA was formed. Asked at that time if the alliance was an antidote to the MCA, Busch said, "I don't think we'd admit that, but from what I can see, they're well organized and have sincere beliefs about what they want to do."

Sandwiched between these two citizens groups, is the Moscow City Council, a seven-member legislative body (including the mayor) with a political identity that's hinged greatly over the last five years on the growth issue.

In the last election, most observers agree, the pendulum swung to the left.

The former council, headed by then Mayor Marshall Comstock, a get-it-done construction company owner who touts free enterprise, was considered business friendly, if not outright pro-growth.

"The council when I was mayor was definitely more pro-growth," Comstock says without hesitation.

The current council, under the guidance of Mayor Nancy Chaney, a soft-spoken former nurse who was endorsed by the MCA and leans "green" on environmental issues, is prone to keeping a tighter rein on free enterprise, at least at the corporate level.

"I don't think this council is anti-growth," says Chaney, who was a council member under Comstock's administration, "but I think we can afford to be choosy."

Enter Wal-Mart, the corporate behemoth that became a touchstone for the growth debate here nearly two years ago when plans for a super center were announced.

"I'm not a Wal-Mart defender per se," says Busch, "but I know we've had a free-market economy in the United States that's worked pretty well for more than 200 years. And if the business climate in Moscow is such that the biggest retailer in the world wants to locate here, that's the way it is."

Livingston counters that Wal-Mart in a super-size portion would mark the beginning of the end of Moscow's small-town character.

"There certainly are some people who don't want a Wal-Mart at all, but I'm not one of them," Livingston says. "However, I'm not sure you need a super center."

The proposed site for the super center and possibly other big-box stores is in the southeastern corner of town, across State Highway 8 from the Moscow Cemetery.

"Over their dead bodies," people organized against the Wal-Mart-anchored development seemed to say. A "No Super Wal-Mart" group was organized, a required zoning change was shot down and the big retailer at this time seems focused on locating in neighboring Pullman where the city council, to this point, has left the welcome mat out.

Meanwhile, members of the Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday voted to recommend a 130,000-square-foot cap on retail stores; a proposal that if adopted by the city council will effectively prohibit most big-box stores. A public hearing on the matter has been scheduled for Feb. 28. It promises to be an airing of ideas by PIMBYs, CAVE people and everyone in between.

Busch and Comstock warn that Moscow has an ever-growing reputation of being anti-business and Chaney recently reinforced the reputation by writing letters of concern about developments across the border in Washington.

"I think it's legal for her to do that," says Comstock, "but I disagree with it. I think the mayor has gone a little bit too far."

Chaney defends questioning the proposed 110-acre Hawkins Co.'s shopping center and an automobile dealership within a mile of Moscow city limits as prudent, if not necessary. "I had the council's full support to do that," she says of her letters addressed to Whitman County Planner Mark Bordsen.

Moscow Chamber of Commerce President Mike Nelson last week sided with Busch and Comstock.

"We must commit to eliminating any obstacles in the way of building true long-term regional economic cooperation," Nelson wrote in a letter-of-concern to Chaney in which he expressed "disappointment" with the mayor's cross-border intervention.

Bordsen, after reviewing all of Chaney's comments, decided none of them raised issues worthy of changing his initial approval of the development plans.

Chaney, who holds a master's degree in environmental science from the University of Idaho, suggests that growth and development should be tethered, rather than given a free rein.

"I am vocal and trying to make it clear that the green light is on for development in Moscow within the principals of smart growth."

Jim Anderson, vice chairman of the GMA, a local businessman and a former city council member, doesn't buy Chaney's pitch. "What she's doing is making us look like a bunch of jerks over here. I don't think she's stating the opinion of most people in the city of Moscow."

Anderson also chastises a majority of the city council.

"They're quoting smart growth, which equates to no growth. I think the present council has demonstrated that they're not in favor of growth. I don't care what they say, that reputation is there."

Bill London, a co-founder of the MCA and advocate of smart-growth principles, says free enterprise of the kind that spawns Wal-Mart super centers in town's like Moscow and shopping centers in farm land is "stupid."

He contends that residents have a right to work through representative government to design and build "a unique community that doesn't want a Wal-Mart."
The take-home from all this is a major opportunity for Pullman, which for the last 30 years has been the town with the business-unfriendly reputation. We can seize the initiative while Moscow self-destructs and do some much needed catching up. Unfortunately, PARD is holding us back by one arm and the Department of Ecology by the other. The stakes have never been higher.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

David Johnson lives in Latah County. I thought the article was a very successful attempt at humor. Like any good newspaper man will, he took a big ol' stick and stirred it around the hornets nest.