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Protest in Peaceful Valley fits the name

Thu., March 23, 2006, midnight

It was a Peaceful Valley kind of protest – laid-back, low-key, potluck.

Neighbors gathered in a back yard, sharing snacks and talking about writing letters in opposition to a proposed 17-story condominium tower about a block away. And, while they’re focused primarily on that project, they share a general concern about the speed of development in their valley and their neighborhood’s future.

“I hadn’t actually met very many of my neighbors until I started doing this,” said Lori Aluna, among the chief opponents of the project. “We’re feeling a real ownership of downtown.

“Downtown belongs to everyone, and this would affect everyone who cares about downtown.”

The neighbors at last Saturday’s Just Say No party want Spokane city officials to deny approval for the condominium project, which is proposed at 200 feet – more than five times what zoning regulations permit. They fear that Peaceful Valley’s character – a combined flavor of blue collar, historic and hippie – is being eroded by expensive developments for the wealthy.

Project opponents say the tower would cast a literal shadow over the valley, including its parks. It would also increase traffic problems, they say.

A hearing on the issue is set April 13.

The project developer, Mick McDowell, says he’s designed a project that takes neighbors’ concerns into account and is trying to do something architecturally creative that fits in with the surrounding downtown buildings like the Carnegie Library and San Marcos apartments.

The project would include three townhouses on Riverside near the intersection with Maple, and a 200-foot condo tower behind that, rising from Peaceful Valley.

It would stand 100 feet above Riverside, though the townhouses and a courtyard would come between the tower and Riverside.

“We’re going to have their Dumpsters and their parking garage,” Aluna said.

McDowell said regulations would permit him to erect a 150-foot tower if he put it closer to Riverside, but he instead developed a design with less effect on the skyline and more landscaping and greenery in Peaceful Valley than required. He said the shadow would have less impact on the houses below than neighbors contend.

“We have taken the concerns of our neighbors in Peaceful Valley into consideration,” he said.

The condos are expected to range from 800 to 3,000 square feet, with prices starting at $250,000. McDowell hopes to start construction on the $30 million project in the spring. Other supporters of the project say the boom of housing downtown has been good for Spokane. They’ve argued that having people living in the downtown area is a key way to keep it vital.

In Patty Norton’s immediate neighborhood, along the 1400 blocks of Clarke and Main, 100-year-old homes are the rule. It’s a national historic district, and old homes are being turned into new developments too quickly for some.

“We’re already lost so many houses to development,” Norton said.

One of the problems with McDowell’s project, opponents say, is the steep slope down from Riverside, which drives down water and can be prone to slides. The neighbors brought materials to support their cause, including photographs of a bank slide at the site of the project from 1957.

Norton and her neighbors want the city to stick to its rules and deny the variance. Though some of them would prefer to see the slope remain forested and undeveloped, several neighbors say they wouldn’t oppose a project that came in under the city’s 35-foot regulation.

“I think the project they’ve chosen is so far beyond what’s reasonable,” said Peaceful Valley resident Jim Patten. “It clearly only benefits one guy.”

Norton said she and her neighbors are hopeful they can get the project changed, but they know fighting such developments is difficult. Still, she said several recent development issues in Spokane – including efforts to save trees along Bernard Street and to build a Wal-Mart on the South Hill – have shown that neighborhoods are working together to protect their interests and being heard at City Hall.

“I feel like, if nothing else, this is getting attention,” she said, noting that people all over town are familiar with the proposal.

“The Bernard Street trees got attention. Wal-Mart got attention. This is getting attention.”

“What happens to us could happen to you,” she said.


 

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