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Valley council may get earful on rezoning

Spokane Valley’s spacious backyards appear to be headed the way of the fields and orchards they were built on.

City Council members removed a provision in the city’s new zoning code, added by the Planning Commission, that would have preserved 10,000-square-foot lots in many neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission also added requirements to the new code that would allow residential zone changes only under certain conditions, but the City Council has considered removing those requirements, as well.

“There are 13 other goals in the Growth Management Act besides neighborhood preservation,” said Councilman Steve Taylor, who also works as a lobbyist for the Spokane Homebuilders Association.

Citing housing affordability, property rights and the state’s attempts to control sprawl, Taylor argued last week that all but two residential areas in the Valley should allow development at six or seven houses per acre – or lot sizes of 6,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet. Others on the council agreed.

Spokane Valley’s haphazard development has left builders, planning officials and traffic engineers with few options for filling in the spare acreage. Many older streets and subdivisions don’t line up with one another, and much of the remaining developable land is behind houses sitting on long, narrow lots.

Last week, a sign went up on Eighth Avenue notifying residents of plans to divide 5 acres across from the Turtle Creek subdivision into lots for 20 homes. Along with the application to subdivide the land, the notice also states there is an application to change the zoning.

At present, much of the city’s residential land is zoned for lots just under a quarter acre. But ambiguity in development regulations the city adopted from the county has allowed developers to change the zoning on their land to about six houses per acre in almost all cases.

“Personally, I’m concerned about what kind of homes they are going to build there,” said Gordon Gallamore, who lives across the street. More houses per acre means more cars on a street where he said neighbors already worry about speeding and cut-through traffic.

City Councilman Bill Gothmann forcefully disagreed with the provisions that would permit denser housing in established neighborhoods.

His pitch to preserve the Valley’s spread-out neighborhoods touched on many of the same points made by planning commissioners and testimony from neighbors over the years who want new residences to better match surrounding houses. Many have said elbow room was the reason they moved to the Valley in the first place.

Of the seven City Council members, only Mike DeVleming lives on a lot smaller than 10,000 square feet, according to county property records.

Councilmen Dick Denenny and DeVleming disagreed with Gothmann, saying an empty lot built at a higher density does not affect the value or quality of life in the less-dense neighborhood around it.

“What happens across the street, I don’t think affects the other side of the street,” DeVleming said.

Mayor Diana Wilhite said smaller lots are necessary to develop the city’s oddly shaped acreage.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the discussion Tuesday. At Taylor’s request, the council will hear public comment on the zoning before the council takes it up again.

Among those likely to speak will be Ponderosa residents, who recently participated in one of Spokane Valley’s longest public hearings on record to oppose a proposed 45-lot subdivision with a re-zone to six houses per acre.

Charles Varner, whose property abuts the proposed development, said the developer has every right to build on the land, but the number of houses proposed has him concerned about their effect on wildlife, traffic and neighborhood evacuation times.

“They need to look at the areas that are adjacent to that and what impact that is going to have,” he said.

In other parts of the Ponderosa neighborhood and in the Rotchford Acres area, the proposed zoning would keep the minimum lot size much larger. The Planning Commission has proposed zoning for 40,000-square-foot lots in those areas, while the council has debated reducing it to 25,000 square feet.