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Moses Lake council opts to keep comprehensive plan

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | May 31, 2022 10:01 PM

MOSES LAKE — At a special meeting on Tuesday, the Moses Lake City Council voted unanimously to keep the city's comprehensive plan in place but withdraw the proposed changes from consideration by the county.

The special meeting was held following a vote at the council’s previous meeting on May 24 to consider repealing the plan, which several council members said had unduly removed land from the Moses Lake urban growth area and failed to adequately consider the prospects of future growth for the city.

“The motion I made was in light of announcements (of major business development),” said real estate agent and City Council Member Mark Fancher, who made the repeal proposal. “It was never my intent to repeal (the comprehensive plan).”

Fancher said the goal was to consider what’s changed in the light of announcements from high-tech battery makers like Sila Nanotechnologies and Group14 Technologies to build factories, last week’s announcement from REC Silicon that the company would resume production and reports that another five or six major business projects are in the works for the Moses Lake area.

He also said that thanks to the decision by the Grant County Public Utility District to create a countywide, high-speed fiber-optic data network, the COVID-19 pandemic had shown that Grant County is a place people who can work remotely are willing to move to.

“We need to take a pause and ask, did we do this right?” Fancher said.

Fancher did not fault the previous council or city staff for the work they did on the comprehensive plan. However, with the flurry of recent business announcements, the city needs to review and update the land use analysis used in creating the plan, he said.

City Manager Allison Williams told council members the city faced significant problems with the state if it repealed the comprehensive plan or amended it without submitting those changes to the Washington State Department of Commerce 60 days ahead of time for review. For example, Williams said, repeals would mean the city was in violation of Washington law and would no longer be eligible for a great deal of state aid needed to improve or expand roads, water lines, sewer lines and other essential city services.

“By repealing, that sets us back in the ability to get new resources to deal with growth,” Williams said.

Last fall, the city council voted to remove several areas from the city's urban growth area after a finding from the Department of Commerce that the Moses Lake UGA was too large. UGA’s were created under the state’s Growth Management Act, passed in 1990, which was designed to limit urban sprawl in counties with a population of more than 20,000. The act requires cities to create and maintain comprehensive plans, and prior to the 2020 update, Williams said the last time Moses Lake updated its plan was in 2001.

According to Williams, under the law, cities are reasonably expected to eventually provide services such as water, sewer, police and fire protection to businesses and residents within the UGA but outside the city limits.

However, Kim Foster, an attorney representing ASPI Group, a property developer and the largest landowner in Moses Lake, said the Department of Commerce seems to speak with two voices. She said the parts of the department that regulate the Growth Management Act don’t know what the parts that encourage and promote business and industrial development are doing.

“I still have trouble with the Department of Commerce saying the UGA is too large because other parts of the department are pushing hundreds of jobs to our city,” he said.

Williams said the city will seek to remove the application for changes to the UGA from consideration by the Grant County Commission. Under current state law, the city has an opportunity once every year to amend the comprehensive plan.

Robert Shiftner, a Moses Lake attorney who owns about one-third of the land in Mae Valley that was under consideration for removal from the UGA, said he was a little surprised to find he had become a “special interest.”

“I’ve been here my whole life. I’m not a special interest,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone may be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Moses Lake City Council Member Deanna Martinez at a special meeting on Tuesday. The Moses Lake City Council voted unanimously to keep the current comprehensive plan, passed by the council last November, but to withdraw from consideration any proposed changes to the city’s Urban Growth Area.

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