May 10, 2012 in Washington Voices

Neighbors testify against zone change

Council ignores proposal to require development agreement
By The Spokesman-Review
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The Spokane Valley City Council appears poised to disregard pleas from neighbors and the recommendation of the city’s planning commission and allow a zone change that would permit a high density apartment complex on vacant land surrounded by single family homes.

During its meeting Tuesday the council considered several proposed comprehensive plan amendments. Most appear routine and generated little discussion. The lone controversial proposal involves parcels just east of Moore Street and behind a row of homes on the south side of Broadway Avenue. The land is currently zoned medium density residential, which allows 12 units per acre; the owners want to make it high density residential, which allows 22 units per acre. The land is owned by Gregory Arger, a commercial developer in Spokane Valley.

The planning commission recommended that the zone change be allowed, as long as the city negotiates a development agreement that would increase the setback and landscaping requirements on the property boundaries adjacent to single family homes. Numerous residents testified before the commission in opposition to the project.

“I don’t know if that’s fair to the developer or not,” said Councilman Chuck Hafner.

The issue of requiring a development agreement to go along with a comprehensive plan amendment came up last year when St. John Vianney Catholic Church asked for a zone change so it could put in low income senior housing, a plan that was loudly opposed by neighbors. An agreement was never reached and the zone change was denied.

Without a development agreement the setback would be five feet on the side, plus an additional five feet for landscaping. A 6-foot sight obscuring fence would also be required, said senior planner Mike Basinger. Councilman Arne Woodard said that would only help block the view of residents on the first floor. “How does that screen them from floor two and three?” he said.

Dwight Hume, owner of Land Use Solutions and Entitlement, asked the council to approve the zone change. “It meets all the requirements of the comprehensive plan,” he said. “It’s an appropriate shovel ready site for high density residential.”

A development agreement should not be required unless the city’s position is that its normal standard for high density residential development isn’t good enough, he said. “That’s what you’re saying otherwise, that you don’t have adequate standards.”

Arger said he plans to build high-end housing with amenities on the site, which is close to shopping, jobs and public transportation. “It’s not apartment, it’s communities,” he said. “We’d certainly like to proceed to do the project this year.”

Several neighbors testified against the project, saying traffic would empty onto Conklin Road, which is too narrow. “We still have deer and wildlife in the area,” said Cheryl McManamon. “They’re trying to plug this right in the middle of low density homes.”

Residents in the new apartments would not be able to turn left on Broadway because of a turn lane and would have to use Conklin to exit, she said. “It’s affecting so many lives around there,” she said. “It’s like we have no say.”

Conklin would have to be upgraded if the project goes through, said Linda Rockhold. “What does that mean?” she said. “Our front yards are not very deep. Nobody wants to buy a house when the front porch is on the street.”

Rockhold invited council members to come to her house and watch the already heavy traffic on Conklin. “I hope you listen to us,” she said.

Instead the council voted six to one, with Woodard casting the no vote, to move all the proposed comprehensive plan amendments to a second reading without requiring a development agreement on the property. Woodard said he was torn between the property rights of the developer and the property rights of the residents. “I’ve experienced what these folks are going to experience in my front yard,” he said. “I empathize. So what do you do?”

Before the vote Councilman Dean Grafos disclosedthat Arger had contributed to his election campaign. “That is not the issue,” he said. “The issue is what is reasonable for the neighborhood.”

Grafos said that while he sympathizes with the neighbors, the city staff does not favor requiring a development agreement and he’s comfortable following their advice. Requiring the agreement would delay the project, he said. “I don’t think that’s in our best interests.”

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