May 15, 2014 in Washington Voices

Apartment complex appears to lack support

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two Spokane Valley City Council members say they will oppose a controversial land-use proposal that would enable multilevel apartment buildings to be constructed in a largely rural neighborhood, while several others say they’re leaning against it.

Whether that’s enough to kill the proposal, which has sparked massive neighborhood opposition, remains to be seen. After months of preliminary consideration by city staff and the Planning Commission, the change sought by Whipple Consulting Engineers to a 5-acre parcel at Barker Road and the old Sprague Avenue will be formally introduced next week and could either be dumped or moved forward to a final council vote later this month.

“There is no way at this point in time with all the information we have, even though it’s going to come up again, that I can support this,” Councilman Chuck Hafner said Tuesday night.

Hafner and others noted that one of the primary goals of the city’s comprehensive plan is to preserve the integrity and character of existing neighborhoods.

The proposal would change the land-use designation from low- to high-density residential, which would enable a large apartment complex with more than 100 units to be built in a neighborhood that consists primarily of single-family homes on large lots.

Whipple Engineering, which is representing the new owners of the property, contends the Valley needs more apartment complexes to accommodate its own population growth estimates and that there’s too little land available with the appropriate zoning. The company also disputes that the neighborhood could be considered rural because there’s already a mix of zoning that includes subdivisions on smaller lots, duplexes and an emerging commercial sector along the nearby Appleway Corridor.

But several council members questioned that assessment and agreed with neighbors opposing the plan that the streets and other infrastructure already is unable to accommodate existing needs, much less the increased demands that large apartment complexes would bring.

“Apartments there might benefit the community and region but it doesn’t benefit the neighborhood,” said Councilman Ed Pace, who used to ride his bike through the area when he worked in Liberty Lake because it was so peaceful. “I drove by there five times in the past month … and it still feels the same way. It might not be technically a rural neighborhood but it sure feels like it.”

Mayor Dean Grafos noted that the the developer could build at least a half dozen duplexes without any land-use or zoning change.

Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard said he also is torn by the project because of his strong belief in property rights. “But whose property rights trump whose,” he asked.

“It’s not our job to make sure you make a profit on a project (with property) you bought under a particular zoning,” Woodard added. “But it’s not my job to obstruct it, either.”

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