A few months after state officials criticized Spokane County for missing deadlines to complete new construction rules along waterways, planners working to finalize shoreline regulations within city limits have won the state’s praise.
“The process has been one of the best we’ve seen,” said Doug Pineo, shorelines specialist for the Department of Ecology. “What the city has proposed so far meets the standards” of state law.
The Spokane City Council on Monday will consider substantial changes to building rules along the Spokane River and Latah Creek. The proposal is meant to complement 2003 state regulations that call for no net loss of “ecological function” along waterways.
The city used a $290,000 state grant to create the plan. Much of the money was used to rate the natural habitat along the river.
“The new plan has taken a more comprehensive look at the state of the shorelines,” said Spokane Planning Director Leroy Eadie.
Most shorelines would gain greater protections from development. Under city rules approved in the 1970s, new buildings are barred within 50 or 100 feet from shorelines, depending on the location. New buffers in some places will extend as far as 200 feet.
The areas with the largest changes – Latah Creek and locations downstream from downtown – would have construction buffers that will increase from 100 to 200 feet.
Rules also require that development that causes the loss of any physical, chemical or biological process that helps sustain plant or animal habitat must make up for the lost “ecological function” elsewhere. For instance, a builder could replant a shoreline with native vegetation.
The state’s “no net loss” standard has “guided everything we’ve done,” said City Planner Jo Anne Wright.
County leaders also are working on shoreline development rules for their jurisdiction. But state leaders earlier this year intervened, noting that the county was well past its January 2007 deadline. They also cited concerns with the county’s draft plan, including that it didn’t extend its current 50-foot shoreline buffer.
Pineo said the Department of Ecology is drafting rules for the county, though county officials will be allowed to submit a shoreline plan if it’s finished soon.
The city’s plan, which is due by the end of the year, still has a few remaining debates.
They include concerns from Spokane’s former Chief Operating Officer John Pilcher, who says the proposed buffer on his property along Latah Creek could affect the land’s development potential. Pilcher’s acreage is near a future U.S. Highway 195 interchange at Cheney-Spokane Road.
Another issue involves Sans Souci West Mobile Home Park – the location of the former Natatorium Park, the original home of the Looff Carrousel. Sans Souci is grandfathered by old shoreline rules, but officials from the park criticize the rules because more than 30 mobile homes within the 100-foot buffer from the river can’t be replaced.
“The thought would be that this area would be returned to a natural condition over time,” Eadie said.
The City Council is considering new language that would allow mobile homes to be replaced, though state officials have expressed unease with the change. Pineo said he believes a compromise could be found because the majority of Sans Souci is outside the buffer.
City Councilman Richard Rush has questioned a provision that would prohibit construction of trails parallel to the river within a buffer zone.
Eadie noted that some parts of the Centennial Trail are outside of buffers and still have views of the river. He said paved trails can cause significant destruction to habitat.
“That’s your highest functioning natural environment area,” Eadie said. “You have to take out a large swath of vegetation (for a trail), and there can be a lot of impacts.”
The construction buffer remains unchanged downtown at 50 feet from the shoreline. That means that the downtown YMCA property – where a condominium tower was proposed two years ago – remains open to new development if city purchase of the land falls through.
On the north side of the river, plans for SRM Development’s Broadway Towers, two 14-story condominium buildings on the YWCA site, likely won’t be affected because the proposal is vested. Although the project meets the 50-foot setback requirement, it wouldn’t fit new guidelines for building height.
The YMCA and YWCA are moving next year to a combined center on North Monroe Street.
New height regulations are aimed at preventing the construction of buildings that “wall off the river,” Eadie said.
At the YWCA site, a building higher than 55 feet would be limited in width to 145 feet between opposite corners and the size of a floor couldn’t be greater than 10,000 square feet.
Plans for the Broadway Towers show the length between corners is about 155 feet and each floor is about 11,500 square feet, Eadie said. He added that the buildings’ triangular floor plan likely will help preserve views of the river.
“They were trying to create the most amount of views out of a condominium project that they could,” Eadie said. “It actually works for them and it works for the public because you end up with something that’s more of wedge shape rather than just a big block.”
Earlier this week, Spokane Hearing Examiner Greg Smith approved a shoreline conditional-use permit for SRM’s project.
If the City Council agrees to the new shoreline regulations on Monday, final approval by state officials is expected sometime next year.
“We’re very pleased,” Pineo said. “We’re just grateful and optimistic that we’ll get this adopted.”