August 18, 2007 in City

Valley backs off higher density

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Following a flurry of opposition to draft zoning that would allow more houses built closer together in Spokane Valley neighborhoods, the City Council has tentatively moved to preserve larger lot sizes.

“People were saying you need to have something mid-range. I thought about it, and several others of the council members thought about it and said ‘That sounds like something we need to do,’ ” Mayor Diana Wilhite said Friday.

Council members decided on Monday to bring back a zone for roughly quarter-acre-minimum lots, recommended by the Planning Commission, until they could look at a map of where the zone would apply.

“That in itself is going to be a monumental task,” Wilhite said.

City leaders still face the question of whether to allow denser building on the city’s many vacant lots or to keep those lots at the same zoning as the neighborhood around them.

The council’s decision on density could change again before it adopts the entire development code by the end of September, and council members’ sentiments are still far from unanimous on the new regulations.

“My vision of Spokane Valley is not to look like West Seattle in 30 years,” Councilman Rich Munson said, referring to a densely settled neighborhood in Western Washington. Life in Spokane Valley has a unique flavor, he said, and “I think the arguments that we’ve heard to sustain that flavor are valid.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Councilman Steve Taylor argued that all but a few residential areas should be zoned at six houses per acre, citing housing affordability and the public cost of providing services to spread-out development.

“We’re talking about helping fill in the blanks where there’s lots within an urban zone, an urban area that needs to be filled,” he said.

Bill Gothmann maintained his view that new development should match the neighborhood around it.

“If the people wish to have these kinds of densities that we are proposing, then government ought to figure out how to do it, and that’s our job,” he said.

The discussion follows a meeting two weeks ago where three dozen residents from various parts of town admonished the council for its earlier consensus to allow minimum lot sizes ranging from 6,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet in almost all Spokane Valley neighborhoods.

Recently, members of the public also have derided Taylor for his dual employment as a City Council member and as a lobbyist for the Spokane Homebuilders Association.

Others on the council were undecided on what size the residential lots should be.

“You talked about listening to the public. I’m sorry, I didn’t see very many 28- to 32-year-old kids, married couples with two kids looking for a house, giving me testimony. I didn’t see very many single mothers giving me testimony about how they could get into a house while they’re living in an apartment,” said Councilman Dick Denenny.

Both he and Councilman Mike DeVleming said the layout of the map would be critical to their decision.

DeVleming also pointed out that setting different zones for single-family neighborhoods would be moot unless the council adopted criteria regulating when developers can change the zoning.

He said there’s no point in fussing over zoning density “because, unless we figure out a way of stopping it, eventually it’s all going to convert to whatever density the developers request.”

There are few guidelines in the existing code about residential zoning changes. Consequently, builders are consistently granted higher densities for their projects.

“If you want to prevent everything from being rezoned to the highest allowed intense use, then you have to come up with some specific criteria to do so,” said City Attorney Mike Connelly.


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