Score one for neighborhood activism.
Widespread opposition to a proposed land-use change that would have allowed large apartment buildings in a mostly rural Spokane Valley neighborhood helped spotlight enough concerns that the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday blocked the request from advancing to formal consideration. The 6-1 vote marked a rare developer rejection for a council that prides itself on being “business friendly.”
“It’s all about preserving the quality and character of a residential neighborhood,” said Councilman Ed Pace, referring to the city’s top priorities outlined in its comprehensive plan. “This is not an apartment-building neighborhood.”
Even the one council member who voted to advance the proposal, Bill Bates, made it clear that he opposed the plan but felt it should have been given the opportunity to work through the remainder of the deliberative process before being rejected.
Neighbors, who have spent much of the year battling the request, cheered the council’s decision and hoped it would serve as a good local civics lesson.
“We feel pretty good,” said Danny Smith, a disabled vet who shares a home with his daughter and son-in-law on a 1-acre parcel next to where the apartment buildings would have been constructed.
Smith’s daughter, Danyel Currier, used the family’s front yard along Barker Road to post signs keeping the neighborhood updated on the progress of the proposal and was pleasantly surprised that the council listened to what the existing neighborhood had to say.
“Do you know how many doors we knocked on and people told us we were probably wasting our time,” she said. “I’m very relieved.”
The family, like many in the area, specifically sought out the neighborhood for its large lots and spread out homes, and uses the property to raise chickens, grow fruit trees and nurture a small vineyard.
But back in the 1990s, before the city incorporated, Spokane County redesignated a nearby parcel to high-density residential, though it was never developed and still is used as a cow pasture.
Nonetheless, that designation is what enabled Whipple Consulting Engineers, which is representing the property’s new owners, to seek a similar change for a 5-acre parcel at Barker Road and the old Sprague Avenue.
Company owner Todd Whipple said the Valley needs more apartment complexes to accommodate its own population growth estimates but lacks enough vacant land with the necessary zoning. Whipple pointed out that area includes a mix of zoning that already allows duplexes and that Barker is a designated arterial with access to Interstate 90 just north of the nearby Appleway commercial corridor.
Council members agreed with the neighborhood opponents that the existing infrastructure is inadequate to accommodate an apartment complex with more than 100 rental units. Schools already are over crowded, the two-lane Barker Road is heavily congested during morning and evening commutes, there are no sidewalks, street lights, parks or other urban, high-density necessities.
“The infrastructure does not currently support changing the zone,” said Councilman Rod Higgins.