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Spokane imposes Latah Valley building moratorium ahead of wildfire season

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(The Center Square) – Spokane imposed an immediate one-year building moratorium for Latah Valley Monday night under an emergency ordinance approved by the city council.

The emergency ordinance received five out of seven votes during the city council meeting — precisely what it needed to take effect immediately. As a result, the city is no longer accepting new subdivision applications for unplatted land in the Latah/Hangman and Grandview/Thorpe neighborhoods.

Those Latah Valley communities are among Spokane’s most at-risk for wildfires. Several fires burned next to the neighborhoods last year, including the Gray Fire, which destroyed over 250 structures. Significant protections are needed in the area, including additional ingress and egress points.

“This isn’t about any one development or developer,” Councilmember Paul Dillon said, “but there are 17 different projects that are in the pipeline.”

Adam Marshall, a resident of the Grandview/Thorpe neighborhood, told the council that he and his neighbors are already at a clinch. Hundreds of homes rely on only a few ingress and egress points, posing a significant risk in the event of an evacuation.

“Time is of the essence, and the situation certainly appears to be the riskiest in history for Latah Valley,” Marshall said.

Summer is only a few weeks away, and with it comes the wildfire season. Pausing development allows the city to consider fire mitigation before congestion reaches a breaking point. He said the decision symbolizes a vote for the public safety of those living in Latah Valley.

Under the new moratorium, Spokane must take comprehensive steps to address the wildfire risks in Latah Valley. This includes assessing all wildfire risks and mitigation strategies in the area, establishing emergency response procedures, planning for the construction of firefighting infrastructure, including a Latah Fire Station, and modifying sections of the municipal code.

However, all this planning comes at an undetermined cost and timeline without funding already in place. Prior conversations discussed possible sources, such as a TIF, or tax increment financing, but noted it could take over a year to receive most of the money, longer than allotted under the new moratorium.

Becky Dickerhoof, a resident of Latah Valley’s Eagle Ridge development, said the community has campaigned for growth for years. However, after the last moratorium, she and her neighbors learned Spokane had not updated its impact fees for development in two decades.

As a result, the city missed out on a wealth of funding it could have used for the infrastructure it now intends to carry out. She said her neighbors agree that further development without the life-saving infrastructure is irresponsible.

Yet, since the last moratorium expired, development has sprung up without ensuring adequate wildfire protections. Dickerhoof said some of her neighbors even received notices that their property insurance was being canceled due to the overwhelming liability.

“Emotional outcries seem to be the catalyst behind the way the city has dealt with this community,” she said. “… now we are emotional again after facing four fire threat evacuations in two years.”

Isaiah Paine, a public affairs & strategic officer with the Spokane Home Builders Association, spoke out against the new moratorium on Monday, citing one of Mayor Lisa Brown’s priorities at the recent 2024 State of City address, increasing the housing supply at all levels.

He questioned how the council could consider a “housing ban” as the region is approximately 35,000 units short of the demand. Paine said companies look at this pause in development when considering whether or not to relocate to Spokane, further impacting growth.

He said each home built could potentially create 2.9 jobs and around $130,000 in tax revenue.

State law requires Spokane to hold a public hearing on the moratorium within 60 days of its enactment, which should take place by July 19.