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Plans back on for tower

Hearing examiner approves project in West Central

A controversial 10-story development in the West Central neighborhood is moving forward again, after a city hearing examiner signed off on revised plans for the project.

The developer of the proposed office complex and parking garage has been seeking a zoning change since 2007 to allow the project to reach 150 feet tall, well over the 35-foot limit. The proposal has divided neighbors and followed a tangled path through the public approval process, suffering an initial rejection from the city hearings officer, a reversal from the City Council, and a lawsuit, which is under appeal.

Developer Marcus DeWood said construction is set to begin if the latest decision is not appealed. The work is expected to take 18 months, with some of the profits eventually going to support educational and neighborhood revitalization projects, he said. Two-year-old estimates put the project’s cost around $15 million, but that could change, DeWood said.

“We think it’s a good project for the neighborhood,” he said.

The West Central Neighborhood Council voted in favor of the project, and most written comments to the city backed the project.

“We’re optimistically hopeful that it can move forward,” said Brenda Corbett, chairwoman of the neighborhood council.

But some say the neighborhood won’t benefit from a tower blocking views and light. They also suggest the developers – DeWood and his wife, Luann Padgham, through West Central Development LLC – have cozy relationships with some members of the City Council and that DeWood has used connections and money to bulldoze the rules.

A longtime critic of the project, Judith Gilmore, said her neighborhood long has been “callously used by absentee landlords.”

She said the zoning rules and comprehensive plan were developed by residents with the community’s best interest at heart.

“So all those people are wrong, and the developer is right,” Gilmore said. “I personally see that as a slap at the neighborhood. … His building is going to absolutely tower over an historical apartment house that was designed by Kirtland Cutter,” the prominent early 20th century Spokane architect.

The project is planned two blocks west of the Spokane County Courthouse and would take up most of the block bound by West Mallon and Broadway avenues and Adams and Cedar streets. One big change in the most recent proposal: It contains no plans for a day care, grocery store or other retail uses.

Plans for business space had been a big part of the reason neighbors liked the project, Corbett said.

The retail component was dropped after a Superior Court judge ruled the project could be rezoned as an office project – but not under retail zoning. DeWood is appealing and said says he’s still committed to having stores in the project.

He, his wife and their companies have been frequent political contributors, and some neighbors have complained about contributions to members of the City Council. The DeWoods were among Councilman Mike Allen’s biggest donors in this year’s elections, giving him $7,195 as individuals and through their companies. They donated $3,500 to Nancy McLaughlin.

In 2008, Allen and McLaughlin voted, as part of a 6-1 majority, to overturn the hearing examiner.

Allen said there was nothing improper in the vote. Like McLaughlin, he had received no donations from DeWood beforehand, and he said he voted to support the project because it had backing from the neighborhood council.

Mike Peterson, a neighborhood resident and project opponent, said the connections between developers donating to politicians who vote, or have voted, on their projects, creates a conflict of interest.

“It’s well-known that campaign contributions and lobbying work,” Peterson said.

DeWood said he and his wife donate to political candidates they support, and that he didn’t seek any favors or special treatment.

“The implication that we were somehow buying their vote to support our project couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

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