It’s not unusual for new developments in old neighborhoods to cause heartburn among neighbors who want to preserve the character of the area.
What many property owners don’t realize is that there may be very little they can do when the large property across the street turns out to be three separate plats, each allowed one single-family home.
That’s what happened at 2607 S. Denver St., just south of Hutton Elementary School. The property, which was initially platted in 1907, was sold, the older home there was torn down and the new owner announced the construction of three modern single-family homes on what neighbors thought was just one lot.
“It’s completely out of character with our neighborhood,” said Tami Mohr, who lives nearby. “Our neighborhood has old homes on large lots. This will look like a condominium development.”
At a Tuesday evening Rockwood Neighborhood Council meeting, city officials and staff outlined ways in which neighborhoods can better preserve their historic character and prevent subdivision of larger lots.
“I have some solutions that can help us move forward, though they may not fix the Denver Street situation,” said Ben Stuckart, City Council president.
The property on Denver Street is one tax parcel, but it covers three lots. Dean Lynch, chair of the Rockwood Neighborhood Council, said he found eight tax parcels covering 16 lots on just one block so it’s not unusual.
Stuckart said the simple solution to preserving a piece of property that straddles several lots is to register it as one piece of property.
“You can go down to City Hall and take the three lots that are underlying your property and make them one,” Stuckart said. “There’s a $350 fee to do that.” He added that the City Council could pass a law protecting an existing neighborhood, forcing a defined geographic area to adhere to the design review process, but that’s not likely to happen.
“That would just be too controversial,” Stuckart said.
A neighborhood can become a registered historic district, if every property owner in the defined geographic area signs on.
Councilman Jon Snyder shared his experience with unsuccessfully trying to turn Peaceful Valley, where he lives, into a historic district.
“Some people thought it was a great idea,” Snyder said, “others said, over my dead body – nobody is going to tell me what I can do to my house and my property.”
Corbin Park is the only residential neighborhood in Spokane that’s a designated historic district.
“Everyone is part of a voluntary design review there and the results are fabulous,” Snyder said.
In a designated historic district, the Landmarks Commission is responsible for reviewing any proposed property changes.
Kristen Griffin, the historic preservation officer for the city and county, said that it’s also possible to preserve individual homes if the homeowner is willing to go through the process of registering the home as a historic property.
“In Corbin Park they wanted to preserve the oval and the feel of the neighborhood as it relates the oval,” Griffin said. “I see the Rockwood Neighborhood, with the fantastic homes and the rock features, the same way.” She added that creating a historic district is door-to-door work because every property owner has to buy into the idea.
A historic district may aim to limit density in a neighborhood, but enforcement can be tricky.
“We don’t throw people in jail for not following the design review process,” Griffin said, “but we do kick them off the historic registration.”
All these ideas may be too little too late for neighbors on South Denver Street.
Rockwood resident Greer Bacon has challenged the development in court. She presented the case before the Spokane hearing examiner in late May, and a ruling on whether a boundary line adjustment will be allowed or a short plat process required is expected by Friday. A short plat process includes a public comment period before a new development can continue.
“Our neighborhood is a mess,” Greer said. “If protecting our properties could be made simple, then a lot of people would buy into it.”