Panel approves change to allow apartment project

Many neighbors oppose zone shift

Despite community opposition to a proposed zone change, the Spokane Valley Planning Commission voted last Thursday to recommend granting the change at 601 N. Conklin Road if certain conditions are met, including increased buffers between apartments and neighboring homes and restrictions on density and height of buildings next to the perimeter.

The 10.6 acre parcel of vacant land is currently zoned medium-density residential; property owner Arger Conklin LLC is requesting a change to high-density residential. At a previous meeting nearly 20 neighbors spoke against the project, citing the number of apartments that would be allowed next to single-family homes, concerns about increased traffic and the fact that neighborhood schools are full. One woman said she had collected 90 signatures in opposition to the project.

Thursday’s planning commission meeting was devoted to discussion of the comprehensive plan zone change application and previous testimony. The commissioners discussed a similar situation where a development agreement was negotiated between the city and a property owner and whether it would work in this case.

Commissioner John Carroll made a motion to add the conditions to the commission’s recommendation to the council. The details would have to be worked out by others, he said, but neighbors living on Moore Road, Sonora Lane and Alki Avenue need to be protected. “We’re not in authority to negotiate a development agreement,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Stoy said he liked the proposal and suggested requiring a 40-foot setback instead of only 5 feet. “I think John’s amendment here is very well thought out,” he said.

Neighbors testified that they didn’t want apartments towering over their homes that would allow people to look into their yards and windows, said Commissioner Rod Higgins. “Is this likely under this scenario?” he asked.

High-density residential zoning only requires a 10-foot setback to the rear and 5 feet on the sides, said senior planner Mike Basinger. Buildings are allowed to be 50 feet high.

Bill Bates said he was concerned that requiring a development agreement would be unfair to the landowner. “It seems to me we’re penalizing some developers and not others,” he said. “I’m not so sure that’s fair to the city or the developer.”

“This one is sort of a nonconforming request, being high density surrounded by low density,” said Commissioner Marcia Sands. “It’s not an unusual thing, it just hasn’t been used much.”

Development agreements are meant to facilitate development, Carroll said. “We’re protecting the neighbors to the west,” he said. “This is not penalizing them.”

The vote to recommend the zone change with conditions was unanimous. Commissioner Rustin Hall was absent.

In other business, Sands brought up concerns that some members of the planning commission were violating the Open Public Meetings Act. After the commission’s previous meeting, Sands said she came across a group of four commissioners chatting in the parking lot. Four commissioners constitute a quorum. Sands said she approached the group to tell them her concerns and was told they were simply deciding where to go for a beer.

Public perception is important, Sands said, and commissioners need to represent the community well. “It’s very important to me that we do it with integrity and openness.”

Sands declined to identify the four planning commissioners involved.

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