April 2, 2006 in Opinion

Growth equals change

The Spokesman-Review
 

By 2025, Spokane County’s population could be crowding 650,000, a 50 percent increase from today. But figuring out where all those people will live involves much more than a simple multiplication exercise.

Will that growth be from birth rates or because people are moving here? If they’re moving in, will they be singles wanting apartments, or will they be young families who need three- and four-bedroom homes with schools and parks nearby, or will they be retirees looking for smaller residences close to shopping and health care?

That’s just a sampling of the variables that planners must take into account as they reach decisions about the regulations that will govern home construction in Spokane.

On April 10, at its regular Monday evening meeting, the Spokane City Council will hold a public hearing on a new residential code that attempts to address the myriad uncertainties surrounding living patterns. Earlier that evening, from 4:30 to 5:30 in the Chase Gallery to the rear of the council chambers, the city Planning Department will hold an open house to explain the new proposal.

Considering the lasting significance of these decisions, Spokane residents would be wise to attend both sessions and let their voices be heard. Conceivably, the council could render a decision that night, though that would be unwise, and city planner Heather Trautman doesn’t think they’ll do so.

Land-use issues are complicated, and they can seem dull.

Until one morning you look out your window and see a two-story, windowless wall just the other side of your fence like a semi that pulled up at an intersection. That’s when zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans take on life. And that’s why it would be smart for Spokane residents to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and comment.

One aim of the new code will be to encourage the use of vacant land scattered around the city for new housing — planners and developers call it infill — rather than stretching the developed area outward, which requires expensive extension of streets, sewer and water lines and other infrastructure.

In some cases this will mean loosening the restrictions that have made those vacant lots unbuildable. Under the proposed revisions, density will increase in some residential areas and it will be permissible to build closer to the property line than it was before.

Trautman has noted that two-thirds of Spokane’s present housing stock is suited for traditional single-family, detached dwellings — Ozzie and Harriet’s place. But that describes only a fifth of the city’s population.

Housing practices clearly are going to change in the future. The coming changes will define the livability of the community and will have validity only if the public generally understands and supports them. A week from Monday, Spokane residents will have a chance to go on the record.

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