Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Planning panel, commissioners eye code revisions for Hawkins project"

More clues on the stores that will make up the Hawkins Stateline Retail Center from yesterday's Whitman County Gazette:
County commissioners met with members of the county planning commission last Wednesday, April 16, to lay out their goals for the next year.

Similar meetings in recent years produced revisions to zoning codes in the ag district and created a new process for permitting home businesses.

Commissioner Greg Partch credited the planning commission for “helping to wear down the opposition,” to last year’s changes to the county’s rural residential zoning ordinance.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the two boards touched on a number of issues, ranging from an update to the county’s comprehensive plan and critical areas ordinances; expanding the cluster residential district to allow for future growth of Pullman, and tying up loose ends to the ag zone code.

Atop the list, however, is a series of changes to zoning laws aimed at easing the development of Boise-based Hawkins Companies’ stateline strip mall.

“The stuff in regards to Hawkins is most vital,” stressed Commissioner Jerry Finch.

Commissioners asked the planning commission to remove a number of hurdles from the shopping center’s development.

Among those hurdles is adding to the list of businesses allowed to locate in the Pullman-Moscow Corridor and loosening signing restrictions. At present, certain types of businesses are not permitted in the corridor. Those exclusions may limit what companies can move into the mall.

“We came up with that because we wanted to keep out strip joints, tattoo parlors and the like,” explained County Planner Mark Bordsen.

Assistant planner Alan Thomson said the county has received a request from a pet store looking to establish its business in the shopping center. Pet stores are not on the list of allowed businesses.

Partch said it was a simple matter of omission, and commissioners suggested the planning commission develop a more complete list of permitted businesses for the corridor.

Ordinances relating to business signs may also need to be changed.

Thomson noted zoning codes only allow one sign per retail development in unincorporated parts of the county.

The possibility of dozens of stores in the 700,000-sqaure foot shopping center may require several signs. To accommodate Hawkins’ plans, the county must change its signing ordinance to allow the erection of multiple signs.

Commissioner Michael Largent stressed it is urgent these changes be made fast.

“Time is of the essence,” he said.

Also discussed was the permitting of wind-power towers.

Wind towers are currently listed under county code as a conditional use, but the height of towers is limited to 350 feet.

Typically, Whitman County has not had sufficient sustained wind levels to sustain a wind farm, but Bordsen said newer towers that reach as high as 500 feet may mean companies will look to the county’s open skies.

“This will alter the county forever, so let’s make sure we’re careful in what we’re doing,” said Planning Commissioner Mary Collins of Pullman.

Thomson reported two wind energy companies will attend the May 21 meeting of the planning commission in regards to the issue of zoning for wind farms.

Bordsen also said he wanted the planning commission to address regulations regarding replacement homes under the ordinance.

The code is not clear on the requirements for those building new homes on the site of former homes.

Bordsen’s issue is how far away those new houses could be built without being subject to the ag zone’s viewshed and buffer requirements.

Currently, the planning department has set an arbitrary ten-foot limit. Bordsen worried, however, that limit might be difficult to defend in court.
The Gazette also reported that the Whitman County Commissioners have hired a consultant to help the county apply for $14 million from the state’s Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) program for the Hawkins project.

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