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Lack of firefighting resources sparks potential building moratorium near Spokane

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(The Center Square) – When a building moratorium that prevented development in Latah Valley ended last year, real estate sprung up while firefighting resources idled; now Spokane is considering its return.

If passed, an ordinance proposed by Councilmembers Paul Dillon and Lili Navarrete would impose an immediate one-year moratorium on development in the area. The ordinance would then require Spokane to begin planning for wildfire safety and ingress/egress points at an undetermined cost.

The moratorium would only apply to new preliminary subdivision and short subdivision applications within the Latah/Hangman and Grandview/Thorpe Neighborhoods, which were adjacent to several wildfires last year, including the Gray Fire that burned more than 250 structures.

During its first reading in the City Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee meeting on Monday, Dillon said the moratorium would not apply to subdivision applications accepted before taking effect. The measure would only apply to new applications on unplatted land.

“Moratorium doesn’t come lightly,” Dillon said. “I know that there’s definitely a weight to it.”

State law allows the city council to impose a moratorium without providing an opportunity for public comment; however, it requires the council to provide that opportunity within 60 days of the moratorium going into effect.

During the moratorium, Dillon said the city would assess wildfire risks and mitigation while establishing emergency response procedures. Part of that includes building a Latah Fire Station and modifying sections of the Spokane Municipal Code.

“If you were to look at last year’s map of fires and evacuations, a lot of the development proposals that we do see are within that area,” he said. “It’s not about any one developer or any one development; it’s really about future planning.”

Councilmember Michael Cathcart said at the end of the last moratorium, the consensus was that the city would pay for growth with growth, but if this new ordinance stops that, so does funding.

He questioned how the city could afford the improvements under a new moratorium unless the state stepped in and funded them all. Otherwise, Cathcart said, it could involve redirecting funds from other neighborhoods.

“You need a mix of a whole lot of things to do this, but if you put a stop to the development, I don’t think you can actually get a solution that’s going to work for people,” he said.

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle said the city is liable here. When initial projects were underway, fees were paid to the city that should have gone toward building fire infrastructure but did not; now, Spokane is at risk of being sued.

“We’re talking about a lot of money here — $50 million on a good day,” Bingle said. “Unless the state ponies up those dollars, we’ll never be able to do it.”