Dozens took the microphone Tuesday night, demanding that the City Council reconsider its proposal to increase the number of houses that can be built on the vacant lots that dot Spokane Valley.
Before a vocal crowd that packed the council chambers and spilled into the hallway, 45 people spoke on the zoning chapter of the city’s new development code.
“Where are the so-called property rights of existing homeowners?” asked Jim Cooperstein, one of more than 35 people who expressed opposition to plans that would allow 6,000- or 7,500-square-foot lots in almost all parts of the city. That’s six to seven lots per acre.
Last week, the council removed a zone created by the Planning Commission that would have preserved close to quarter-acre lots as the minimum in many existing neighborhoods.
Cooperstein and others, though, forcefully disagreed with the arguments of some council members that the effects of denser housing on surrounding areas are minimal, that smaller lots are needed to preserve affordable housing, and that the city should be considerate of developers’ property rights.
“I love my space,” said Sonja Peterson, who lives in the Ponderosa neighborhood.
“I love my neighbor’s space,” she said. “It matters very much to me what the person across the street does or doesn’t do with their home.”
A number of times, testimony was met with applause or shouting from the audience. Those who testified came from several Valley neighborhoods, and ranged in age from a woman in her 20s to elderly homeowners who grew up in the Valley’s agricultural era.
Several people also directed strong words at Councilman Steve Taylor, who is employed as a lobbyist for the Spokane Homebuilders Association and has made the case for smaller lots.
“I think Mr. Taylor should step back from this,” said Jerry Reisdorph. “I don’t think it’s ethical, and I don’t think it’s honest.”
Taylor – who called for Tuesday’s public comment session – said he tries to separate his private life from his work on the council, and that he acts in what he believes is the best interest of the community.
“The basis of a conflict of interest is spelled out specifically in the Washington state statutes,” he said after the meeting. He is not in violation, Taylor said, and he intends to vote on development code matters.
Three people spoke in favor of denser zoning, including David Crosby, a member of the Planning Commission and a candidate for a seat on the City Council.
A Realtor who focuses on first-time homebuyers, Crosby said there are 27 houses on the market in Spokane Valley for less than $140,000 and none for less than $95,000. The median price in the city since the beginning of the year has been $219,000, he said.
One of his opponents for the Position 3 seat also testified.
“People want larger lot sizes. This is what makes Spokane Valley a place people want to live,” said Joseph Edwards.
“The Planning Commission and people have provided clear direction” and the council should act on it, he said.
Those testifying shifted through topics as diverse as school crowding, fire safety and the difficulty of planting a tree and bushes between houses that are only 10 feet apart.
Planning Commissioner Bob Blum and others also prodded the council to include rules that would make it more difficult to change the zoning on residential lots. At present, many projects are rezoned to higher densities over the objections of neighbors because the existing code doesn’t provide criteria for zone changes within low-density residential areas.
After comment ended, the council resumed its deliberations of chapter 19 of the Uniform Development Code but did not return to the section on residential lot sizes.
“We like to get information. We like to hear from people,” said Mayor Diana Wilhite.
The council will discuss the size of lots in residential areas again in the future, she said, and at some point the council will have a public hearing on the new code.