June 14, 2012 in Washington Voices

Zone change moves forward

Council to consider proposal without stipulations
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Map of this story's location

The Spokane Valley City Council appeared poised to require a development agreement for land being considered for rezoning at 601 N. Conklin Road during Tuesday’s meeting before members abruptly changed course.

The proposal will come to the council later this month for a first reading without requiring a development agreement.

The owner of the vacant land, Greg Arger, is requesting a zone change from medium-density residential to high-density residential and has discussed putting an apartment complex on the site, which is surrounded by single family homes. Neighbors have strongly opposed the plan, citing concerns about privacy as well as increased crime and traffic. The city’s planning commission recommended approving the zone change if the city negotiates a development agreement to increase the buffer between apartment buildings and homes and restrict the density.

As currently zoned, the property can include 127 apartments or 204 apartments with a density bonus typically granted for low-income housing projects. If the property is zoned high-density residential it can include 233 apartments or up to 373 apartments with a low-income housing density bonus. “The applicant is not proposing a density bonus,” senior planner Mike Basinger said.

“But he could,” Mayor Tom Towey said. “He certainly could,” Basinger replied.

“The problem I have is the recommendation from staff is different from the planning commission’s,” said Councilman Chuck Hafner. “That’s where I’m in a quandary.”

Staff is only allowed to consider whether the zone change request meets the city’s municipal code requirements and it does, Basinger said. The planning commission is allowed to consider other factors as well.

There was some discussion about sending the zoning request back to the planning commission, but there wasn’t much support for the idea. “I don’t think we’re going to get any new information,” Towey said. The planning commission held a public hearing and used that in reaching its decision, he said. “I’m inclined to agree with them. They went through that process.”

Even if the issue went back to the planning commission it would still be up to the council to make the decision, said Councilman Arne Woodard. “We’re kicking the can down the street,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re going to get a different result.”

Councilman Dean Grafos said the request was consistent with the municipal code and would benefit the neighborhood, a statement that was met with laughter from several homeowners in the audience. “I think they would see their property values increase,” Grafos said.

The council appeared to favor a development agreement and Basinger said the owner was willing to negotiate one, but several council members seemed uninterested in taking two months to negotiate an agreement. “I don’t know any shorter way to get there,” said city manager Mike Jackson.

Grafos suggested bringing the issue up for a first reading without a development agreement requirement at the June 26 meeting and found some agreement on the council. “Let’s move on with it,” Hafner said.

Only Towey and Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said they favored following the planning commission’s recommendation to require a development agreement.

In other business, the council agreed to move forward with a proposed interlocal agreement with Spokane County that would allow the city to build a multi-use trail on the former Milwaukee Railroad right of way that the county owns. The city once wanted the land in order to extend Appleway Boulevard but the county refused to relinquish ownership.

The county will keep the land and the two governments will jointly apply for grants to build the trail. The city will maintain the right of way, including weed and trash removal. The trail will be similar to the Centennial Trail and will meander to “give it texture,” said city attorney Cary Driskell.

The city could eventually add landscaping and other amenities to make the trail more of a linear park, Driskell said. The agreement with the county is for 30 years and could allow for the addition of light rail in the future. The county will also be allowed access to the utilities, including sewer lines, which run under the land. A vote on the proposal, which has already been approved by the Spokane County commissioners, is set for June 26.

The city and county already have plans to apply for a Washington State Pedestrian and Bicycle Program grant that could fund the first phase of the trail from University to Evergreen roads.

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