Two Spokane County commissioners heard an earful from residents young and old living near a proposed 354-unit apartment complex near Wandermere Golf Course on Tuesday night.
The biggest ovation of the night came following an impassioned plea from Jonathan Baird, a 13-year-old student at Northwood Middle School, who said allowing the construction of the apartments would be a “disaster” for the overcrowded, aging facilities of the Mead School District.
“I can tell you that our school building is falling apart and is not big enough for our current student body,” said Baird, adding that he “sparingly” uses the bathrooms, to laughter from commissioners and neighbors in attendance.
Many Wandermere neighborhoods staunchly oppose the planned complex, saying it would add unneeded stress to overcrowded schools and an already-busy Wandermere Road. They packed the Commissioners Assembly Room for testimony that lasted hours.
Jack Worley, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood who called himself a “pioneer” of the area, typified the comments of residents. He asked commissioners not to approve the rezoning that would allow the complex because it would conflict with the makeup of the community.
“I think a little common sense is needed,” Worley said.
Project manager Kirk Kappen, of Rudeen Development, already has gone through environmental and road studies and filed planning documents for the 13.5-acre crescent parcel that hugs the North Spokane Corridor, planning to break ground on the first phase of the project this spring.
The developers were represented Tuesday night by local land-use attorney Stacy Bjordahl, who said commissioners should decide on the proposal based on the law, not the significant amount of testimony from neighbors.
“Unfortunately, that is not legally supported to case law in Washington,” Bjordahl said, to murmuring from the crowd. “Public opposition cannot be the basis for denial of a land-use decision.”
County commissioners requested Tuesday’s hearing after a volunteer board of planning commissioners rejected in November a rezoning request that would open a 4-acre portion in the center of the proposed development to denser housing. Without it, plans for the 27-building complex would have to be altered significantly.
Bjordahl said without the rezoning, the developers would have to add additional roads into the complex off Wandermere Road. Commissioner Todd Mielke wondered if firefighters would ask for two roads into each section of the development, which would mean six total intersections along a mile stretch of Wandermere.
But Bjordahl said the developers were willing to amend their plans to lower the height of the buildings to 35 feet from 41 feet, in an effort to keep the apartments from affecting the sight lines of homes across Wandermere.
Ned Wendle, building and facilities director for the Mead School District, told commissioners their facilities are “at or above capacity.” He said the area has 700 planned developments on the books that haven’t been built yet, including the proposed apartment complex.
The site of the proposed apartments is also within the urban growth boundary, an area marked for expanded development and already served by county sewers. In the past, commissioners have been loath to deny housing projects in these areas, citing portions of state law that push for denser residential development there.
Some in the crowd scoffed at Commissioner Al French’s absence at the meeting Tuesday. French initially made the motion calling for another look at the apartment project. Mielke said at the beginning of the meeting that French was out of the area on county business.
Commissioners took no action on the rezoning Tuesday. They’ve scheduled a meeting in March to discuss neighbors’ lengthy testimony and the legal issues surrounding the proposed apartments.
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