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Planners to evaluate zoning

THURSDAY, SEPT. 23, 2004

No neighbors make the best neighbors, which meant the eight empty acres bordering Ron Van Tassel’s home set the gold standard for solitude – at least until recently.

A zone change allowing as many as 176 apartment units to be built on the land is in the works.

Van Tassel and other residents of the Veradale neighborhood are throwing up the usual reasons for stemming the potential flood of new neighbors: traffic, school crowding, falling property values.

However, the real killer for the proposal could be one seldom considered in Spokane Valley: style.

City planners are recommending against allowing landowners to change to high-density zoning in neighborhoods where single-family homes are the norm.

They’re arguing for the creation of design standards to make apartment-style projects look more like the residential neighborhoods surrounding them.

There are no such standards now, but there could be as the city hammers out its comprehensive land-use plan over the next year.

Spokane Valley’s planning commission will decide tonight whether to wait for design standards to be created or allow landowners to change up to higher density zoning.

The rules would be welcomed by Van Tassel and others surrounding the property.

“In probably every major city, there’s been a buffer idea, that between high and low density, you have to have a buffer,” Van Tassel said.

Bill Gothmann, planning commission chairman, said he’ll reserve judgment on preventing landowners from changing to high density housing until he hears more about potential design standards at the 6:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

“I’m in a show-me mood,” Gothmann said. “I gather they’re going to propose some standards. I guess I want to see them first before I say anything.”

But design standards are just one of the new criteria planning commissioners will consider as they craft new land-use rules for Spokane Valley.

There is interest among commission members for considering market demand when deciding what gets built in the Valley.

If there’s a demand for a certain development, Gothmann said the city should try to provide it.

Likewise, if the demand isn’t there, then perhaps in the future, the city will discourage those land uses. This begs the question about the city’s current need for high-density housing.

Van Tassel drives down Mission Avenue to the west of his home on Burns Road and he sees a lot of for-rent signs outside the large apartment complexes lining the road.

“The long-term result of high vacancy is deterioration,” Van Tassel said.

Locally and nationally, rental markets are faltering as tenants are taking advantage of record low mortgage rates and becoming homeowners.

Apartment vacancy rates nationally average 11 percent. Locally rates are a little better, 6.9 percent in June, but that’s up from 4.3 percent a year ago, according to the Washington Center of Real Estate Research.

Vacancy figures for this fall aren’t due until November, but if mortgage applications by first-time homebuyers are any indication, more for-rent signs will be going up.

“First-time homebuyers make up an increasing portion of our loan volume,” said Vicki Steen of Spokane Teachers Credit Union.

“While it’s predicted that rates may increase over the next year, today’s rates are still historically low. This helps give first-time homebuyers the advantage of an affordable house payment.”

The credit union received 257 first mortgage applications totaling nearly $56 million through the first eight months of the year.

And new home construction in Spokane Valley is outpacing the number of new apartment units.

The city issued 200 permits for houses so far this year and 10 multi-housing permits for a total of 154 new apartment units, said Tom Scholtens, director of Spokane Valley’s building department.

He suspects more apartments are in the pipeline.


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