Can I Get a Building Permit?

by Jim Palmer Jr. – Real Estate Marketplace N.W. Inc.

     Many property owners in Spokane County are up in arms about the recent Supreme Court ruling called the Hirst Decision that has effectively stopped development of residential acreage in Spokane County.  When this decision first hit the airwaves, Spokane County officials were blindsided by the revelation that they would now have to be responsible for determining whether a land owners new use of a well at a new building site would impair wells on adjoining properties or whether that new use would impact the in-stream-flows of water downstream that could affect the fishery.  In a panic, they placed an immediate moratorium on any new rural building permits that did not have the availability of public water.  When the public backlash became unbearable, the commissioners passed an emergency interim resolution that allowed some building, but with certain restrictions.  That interim resolution was replaced with a new six month resolution on January 10, 2017 that further clarifies their current stance on this issue.

Property owners in the WIRA 55, (Water Resource Inventory Area) are the most impacted by this resolution since it has the most restrictive regulations.  This area includes most of the northern portion of Spokane County, a small area in southern Stevens County and a small portion of southern Pend Orielle County.

In my opinion, these regulations have a catastrophic affect on the ability of current land owners and future buyers to develop their property from raw land into developed residential acreage.  Most land owners just won’t be able to obtain permission to build, even if they have an existing well already installed.

The way I understand the new rules, the property owner must be able to prove one of three things in order to obtain a building permit in this WIRA: 1) Proof that they can obtain an adequate source of potable water from a public municipality or Public Utility District,  2) Proof that they have already used a well in a permitted structure such as a mobile home or shop/house, or  3) The property owner purchases a portion of a legitimate water right from someone upstream.

There is legislation brewing in Olympia to help resolve this situation or at least to create more concrete rules.  Last week the Senate passed a bill that would have given some relief, but this effort died in the House of Representatives.  The bottom line is that currently Spokane County does not make any warranties regarding legal water availability for proposed development.

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