Division III - Spokane's Failure to Hold Public Meeting Invalidates Comprehensive Plan Update
Under the Growth Management Act, cities and counties are required to have a comprehensive plan for how they deal with growth. Usually, this takes the form of a planning policy commission or some other board, and they either adopt things directly or submit them to a city or county council with recommendations. For example, in Issaquah, this is dealt with with a Planning Policy Commission, which reviews and makes recommendations on the Comprehensive Plan and makes recommendations on adoption to the City Council. In addition, various and commissions update their pieces of the puzzle and make recommendations as well.
One vital part of this is a public hearing on any changes prior to their adoption. In Issaquah, for example, that involves public participation at every meeting where potential changes to the plan are discussed, as well as public participation at the meeting where those changes are formally adopted. Its actually a requirement of the Growth Management Act that early and continuous public participation be allowed.
So here, Spokane updated their comprehensive plan to include a revised population estimate, as well as made revisions adding thousands of acres to its urban growth area. Unfortunately, they did not have a public meeting on this. Why is this a problem? Well, their population projections weren't based on actual projections, and appear to have been done to justify the increase of the urban growth area, which would not have been needed under the actual population projections. The GMA is there to prevent growth for the sake of growth, which is exactly what Spokane tried to work around:
The purpose of the GMA is to control urban sprawl by "[r]educ[ing] the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development" and to ensure that "citizens, communities, local governments, and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning."
The law actually requires that UGAs be determined based on population projections, not the other way around. Here, Spokane used its UGA projection to determine an addition to the population estimate that would support it:
Given the foundational role of the OFM's population projection in determining the size of a UGA, the County's unilateral adoption of an increased population projection, which was used to justify a significant expansion of the UGA, constituted a significant change, mandating public review and comment as provided in RCW 36.70A.035(2)(a). While it is arguable, as the County contends, that an upward population adjustment could be inferred to justify adoption of one of the alternatives that would otherwise result in an excessive population capacity, it is an equally logical inference that the County would reject expansion that would result in such excess population capacity. In fact, Spokane County's land quantity analysis showed that the existing UGA had more land than needed to accommodate the UGA population growth projection of 113,541. . . .
The resolution does not retlect why the County provided no notice that upward population adjustment was being considered. The resolution's finding of fact 21 states that the Board had previously adopted a resolution adopting a total population project of 612,226, which corresponds with the prior adopted population projection of an increase of 113,541 people. Moreover, the OFM predicted slower population increases for Spokane County in its 2012 update. While the resolution attempts to characterize th 113,541 figure as "preliminary," there is no evidence in the record that the County had considered a change in the population projection until after it expanded the UGA boundary and the period for comment and review had passed. By increasing the population forecast to fit the UGA boundary expansion desired by the County, the County effectively turned GMA planning procedures on their head, and deprived the public of its opportunity for review and comment.
So, long and the short of it is the resolution increasing the population estimate and increasing the UGA is invalidated. There was no reason to increase the estimate given the actual growth was matching the previous estimate and growth was expected to slow. Neither was their a need for more urban growth area, as the existing UGA was larger than needed to meet the population needs.