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Opinion

City must update its zoning codes

Spokane is one of those cities blessed with a variety of distinct historic neighborhoods, each with its individual blend of older homes, mature trees and revered traditions. Keeping such places from losing their character and falling into neglect means making sure that local building and development codes themselves are kept in proper repair.

Fortunately, the Spokane City Council took action this week that will make it possible for such repair work to occur. That’s good for the city in the long run, but it offers immediate relief to the Logan Neighborhood near Gonzaga University where for the past couple of years some unfortunate development work has been pouring through loopholes in the city’s zoning controls.

On Monday, the council approved an emergency six-month moratorium on redevelopment of houses in inner-city areas considered suitable for duplexes. As a result of the recent development work, some of those housing units are becoming not duplexes but, in essence, dormitories.

It’s not surprising that such projects would be pursued. GU has gone through a growth spurt in recent years. Enrollment is up about 30 percent in the past six years, and the crunch on student housing is such that 82 students have been put up in the Red Lion River Inn this year. The University is playing serious catch-up: Work will begin soon on a 92-bed dorm expected to be ready for 2005. An apartment building for 250 upper-division students will be started next summer and ready for 2006. Fortunately for the university, enrollment is expected to level off after next year’s freshman class — anticipated to be around 925 students — checks in.

Clearly, GU’s robust growth is adding a measure of youth and vitality to the Logan Neighborhood, especially as students show a desire to stay on or close to campus.

But accommodating that demand, to the degree the university’s own construction efforts don’t absorb it all, shouldn’t be done at a cost of disrupting the neighborhood. When a lot meant for a couple of families and two or three cars, suddenly is home to 20 to 30 tenants and their respective modes of transportation, the result is a zoning nightmare.

Ironically, the permissiveness with which current regulations allow this kind of renovation is in contrast with overly restrictive controls on families who want to adapt their homes to growing families rather than move out of the neighborhood.

City Councilman Al French, an architect in private life, says the city’s archaic code puts limits on inner-city home owners that are stricter than would be allowed on similar-sized lots at the perimeter of the city. If that’s so, it encourages an evacuation of the city’s core and leaves it vulnerable to decay.

According to French, there are many examples of outdated provisions that need to be made relevant to today’s conditions. The Spokane Plan Commission and the City Council need to take full advantage of the six-month moratorium and come up with a responsible upgrading of the city’s development rules. They must tap into the pride and vitality that will let Spokane’s distinctive neighborhoods have futures as promising as their pasts.

 

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