May 3, 2014 in Washington Voices

Clash of cultures

Greenacres residents say their rural neighborhood isn’t equipped – or suited – for apartment complexes
By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

William and Danyel Currier stand in their backyard Thursday in Spokane Valley as construction equipment works in the adjoining lot. The couple are unhappy about a proposed apartment complex in the mostly single-family-homes neighborhood.
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The next showdown comes Tuesday night, when the Spokane Valley City Council is scheduled to take public testimony on the proposal and a handful of others.

On a tight budget but needing a place where he and his daughter’s family could live, Danny Smith and his son-in-law found a five-bedroom, five-bath home on nearly an acre in Spokane Valley two years ago and snatched it up right away.

They’ve got chickens, 17 fruit trees, a small vineyard that produced about 400 pounds of grapes last year and a peaceful, tree-shaded backyard where three generations of the growing family enjoy visiting, relaxing and playing.

But the Spokane Valley’s growing pains have found their way to the mostly spread-out neighborhoods around Barker Road and the old Sprague Avenue.

Developers want the city to redesignate a 5-acre parcel alongside the family’s rancher to high-density residential, which would enable large apartment buildings to be constructed.

Smith and his family, along with dozens of their neighbors, are trying to stop it.

“This part of the Valley is called Greenacres,” he said, emphasizing the “acres” part.

“There is just so much infrastructure that has to be done before this area could handle something like what they’re talking about, why not get that done first,” the disabled U.S. Army vet added. He and others cite already overcrowded schools and bumper-to-bumper traffic jams along Barker during the morning and evening commutes.

The next showdown comes Tuesday night, when the Spokane Valley City Council is scheduled to take public testimony on the proposal and a handful of others.

Smith, his family and dozens of neighbors are planning to pack the chambers. So many residents turned out for the Planning Commission hearing earlier this year that an additional day of testimony had to be added to accommodate all the people testifying against it. The commission unanimously decided to recommend the proposal be rejected even though city planners have recommended it be approved.

The decision is up to the City Council, which has identified affordable housing as one of its top priorities.

Although the neighborhood consists mostly of single-family homes, and has maintained a rural appearance, there’s a mix of zoning that already includes a nearby mobile home park, medium-density parcels to the west and subdivisions with single-family homes on smaller lots to the south. Additionally, Barker Road is a designated arterial with freeway access to the north and a high-capacity intersection at Sprague.

“There’s a lack of vacant property in the Valley for high-density residential,” said Mark Krigbaum, a project engineer at Spokane Valley-based Whipple Consulting Engineers, which is requesting the land-use change.

The developer sees the project as a suitable transition between the emerging Appleway commercial corridor a few blocks to the north and the single-family subdivisions and rural acreage outside city limits to the south. Plus, there’s a Spokane Transit bus stop within walking distance.

A nearby parcel was designated high-density residential in the mid-1990s, before the city of Spokane Valley was formed, though it remains vacant and still serves as pastureland for cows.

If the proposed change is made, Smith and his family’s home would become an acre of low-density living sandwiched between high-density parcels potentially filled with multi-level apartment complexes.

“Greenacres has always been the kind of place where the lots are big and the houses are spread apart,” said Smith’s daughter, Danyel Currier, who along with her husband, William, and their kids have nursed the small orchard at the back of their property back to life. “This is the kind of place where you can grow things and enjoy that space.”

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