Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Finding room to grow; Pullman, Whitman County work out how to zone agricultural land around the city"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The city of Pullman is concerned that Whitman County's new rural-residential laws could complicate and increase the cost of its urban growth if it's circled by large-lot residences.

Pullman City Supervisor John Sherman said there is a possibility the city could be ringed in by large-lot development when the new rural-residential laws go into effect, presumably sometime this year.

Pullman wants an area surrounding the city that would be defined as an urban expansion zone and would be free of development until the city expanded into it. That way, the city can grow in a more orderly way and not have to zig-zag around existing developments.

Ideally, Sherman said, the city would like a one-mile ring around Pullman designated as an urban reserve area.

The city also wants the county to reserve an area south of Pullman for a highway bypass.

The concept isn't new to Whitman County. The county granted Pullman urban expansion areas in 2004, when it created cluster-housing zones. Sherman said the designation allowed the city to grow evenly, but now it has expanded into those areas and developers are searching for more land near town.

Finding land hasn't been a problem so far, and Sherman said the city wants to keep it that way.

"We are not opposed to rural residential," he said. "We would like to maintain that growth buffer."

Sherman said that buffer has saved money and time completing infrastructure and rights-of-way around the property of existing landowners. Plus, the city doesn't want to deal with the increased number of landowners.

"People living in the country move there for a certain lifestyle," Sherman said. "They can become very distraught if they become surrounded by subdivisions."

Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch said just because an urban growth area doesn't exist in the proposed rural-residential laws doesn't mean those areas can't be established. The county can create an interlocal agreement after the laws go into effect.

The county wants large-lot residences to be permitted on the outskirts of Pullman. It also wants to provide areas for commercial businesses outside the city limits to increase its tax revenue and secure fire flow and utilities to those businesses from the city, with businesses paying for the installation.

In turn, the county has offered to share some of the taxes generated from the new businesses.

Whitman County Planner Mark Bordsen said landowners get caught in the middle of the discussion. If an area is designated as an urban expansion area, the owner can't sell it for large-lot development. They have to wait until the city wants to annex their property.

There are other considerations besides room to grow. Tax revenue is important to both Pullman and the county.

The county receives the bulk of the tax revenue when businesses and properties are located outside incorporated areas. The cities the businesses border receive no direct tax benefit, although the county still retains a portion of the tax revenue when an area is annexed into a city.

The county doesn't immediately lose the largest portion of the tax revenue when property is annexed into a city. Total tax transference from the county to a city takes six years.

Sherman and Finch said the discussion on city expansion isn't a splitting point between Pullman and the county.

Sherman said both Pullman and the county want continued sustainable growth and the continuation of the county's agricultural industry.

Sherman said the Pullman City Council is still considering the county's proposal.

"We don't agree on everything," Sherman said of the city and the county. "We try to cooperate, but cooperation doesn't always mean agreement."

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