October 21, 2004 in City

Zoning struggle snuffed

By The Spokesman-Review

Opposites attract. Just ask Mary Pollard.

The Greenacres woman, who led a neighborhood fight to preserve the country setting of her community, is quickly being circled by housing projects.

Three sides of her Baldwin Avenue home now border developments of six homes an acre. Blueprints for one of the projects include a road through Pollard’s back yard.

Pollard’s neighborhood drive, which sought to limit construction to slightly more than three homes an acre, is all but dead. The Spokane Valley Planning Commission recently issued a tie vote on the matter, which will go down as a “no” vote in the city’s development records.

The City Council could reverse course next month, but Pollard and her neighbors aren’t optimistic.

“We were hoping that the city would make it three and a half homes an acre and that’s a lot of houses. We thought they would if we came up with $1,800 to apply for rezoning and got 51 percent of the signatures from the neighborhood,” Pollard said. “We got 71 percent of the signatures. The (city staff) recommended we be allowed to do this. It didn’t matter.”

Pollard’s neighborhood of more than 250 houses sits between Barker and Flora roads and north of Mission Avenue. Its sprawling horse pastures and weathered barns are mixed with modern homes built mostly during the past 50 years. Its northernmost border is the Centennial Trail and Spokane River. It is also prime development land. Spokane Valley has approved 147 homes for the area. Sixty more homes are now in the planning process.

Bill Gothmann, chairman of the Spokane Valley Planning Commission, said he was disappointed the neighborhood didn’t get what it wanted.

What neighbors were asking for wasn’t as restrictive as it first seemed. Their requested rezone would have set the development bar at slightly more than three homes an acre, but any developer wanting six homes an acre could get it by paying $1,800 and getting his or her project approved by the city hearing examiner. Developers asking to zone up from 3.5 homes an acre to six seldom fail, but they have to make a public appeal and neighbors get to weigh in on the issue.

The process is similar to what Pollard and her neighbors went through unsuccessfully. In their case, 71 percent of the neighborhood’s registered voters endorsed down-zoning. Four landowners, holding out the option to develop someday, objected and prevailed.

Community stands on issues like zoning are rare, said Gothmann, who voted for the rezone. It sends a bad message when the city tells a neighborhood it can’t have a say in how its community is built.

“I personally feel very badly for not going that direction (requested by the neighborhood),” Gothmann said. “This was the very first neighborhood plan we’ve seen and to overrule it isn’t the right thing to do. We should be listening to them.”

What the commission should do, said planning Commissioner John Carroll, is uphold the zoning rules imposed by Spokane County.

Before Spokane Valley incorporated two years ago, the county set all the development rules for the Valley, including the rules allowing six homes an acre in Pollard’s neighborhood.

Changing the rules now, Carroll said, would be bad for business. Carroll voted against the rezone requested by Pollard’s neighborhood.

“The planning agencies and county commissioners, they invested their time and money.

“People purchased land down there with the understanding that they could do certain things in that area,” Carroll said.

“For us to go back and take that away from them causes people to lose confidence in government.”

For the sake of consistency and a stable business environment, Carroll said he would stick with what the county created even if it riled the neighborhood, which the county plan did. Pollard and her neighbors hired an attorney and challenged the county when the government’s plan first surfaced. Like their most current battle, the neighborhood’s first fight failed, too.

“History is full of mistakes people made, and we cannot go back and change them,” Carroll said. “All we can do is move forward.”

Part of the Greenacres neighborhood is probably suited for less development, but not all of it, said Dave Crosby, a real estate broker and planning commissioner.

Amenities like the Centennial Trail and the large sections of undeveloped land make much of the neighborhood ripe for home development.

“They want to protect the neighborhood, which is all fine and good, but the trouble I have is we have to be careful of the zoning we do,” Crosby said.

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