May 18, 2011 in Business, News, Voices

Wetlands discovery stalls work on planned senior apartments

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A group of south Spokane residents won at least a partial victory last week, forcing a developer to delay work on a proposed senior apartment complex by alerting state officials to wetlands on the site.

State ecology officials said the land, near 44th Avenue and Regal Street in the Berkeley Woods area, has wetlands that should have been identified before grading work began last week.

Jeremy Sikes, the Eastern region wetlands specialist for the Department of Ecology, visited the site last week after being called by a resident.

He said he found wetlands that had not been identified by the developer, Inland Group. Sikes had the work near the site halted and a silt fence added to protect the wetlands.

Inland Group, based in Spokane Valley, is developing two projects on sites just east of the ShopKo store on South Regal. The wetlands are on the site of a proposed 150-unit senior living complex at 3270 E. 44th Ave, called Traditions South Hill Senior Apartments.

The other project, due west of the senior complex, is Palouse Family Apartments and would add 232 units in 10 new buildings. Eight of the 10 buildings will be three-story structures; two will be two-story, said Darin Davidson, an Inland Group spokesman. The two projects total about $33 million in construction costs, according to permits filed with the city.

Area residents have raised concerns for months about the projects, said Hossein Nikdel, who has lived in the neighborhood for close to 20 years. While slowing down the senior project is a small victory, Nikdel said he and others feel the city has ignored other issues.

“The city also needs to address how to handle traffic, and the density concerns, since some of the three-story buildings will be built within 10 feet or so of existing residences,” Nikdel said.

So far the city has approved a grading permit for the senior project. It is also reviewing permits for Palouse Farms but has yet to approve any, said Joe Wizner, director of Spokane’s Building Services division.

Sikes said he was told by Inland Group’s engineers that a water study prepared in 2001 found no wetlands on the site. “So when I went there last week and I didn’t expect to find much,” Sikes said.

Instead Sikes found an obvious wet area, with water clearly visible, covering an area roughly 40 feet by 100 feet, he said.

The explanation, said Sikes, is that some areas have wetlands that change or grow over time.

Additionally, the 2001 study, prepared for a previous landowner, determined the property had an “intermittent stream” but didn’t have a defined channel or other characteristics of a wetland, according to a report submitted to officials.

Even so, Sikes noted that the developer has the obligation to update or revise any studies used for this project. In general those water reports cannot go back longer than five years, he said.

Davidson said Inland Group didn’t know about the wetlands. He said, in an email, the wetlands appeared to be a “drainage depression.”

By state law, Inland has several options. It can preserve the site’s wetlands. It can fill that wet area but create another wetlands of like size nearby. Or it can enhance existing nearby wetlands in the area. Inland has not decided what course to take, Davidson said.

While some area residents commented about the wetlands during the city’s public comment period earlier this year, city planners didn’t force Inland to revise its application.


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