Developers hoping to build smaller homes on lots within Spokane city limits received a helping hand from city lawmakers this week.
The Spokane City Council unanimously passed revisions to city zoning laws designed to promote development on smaller lots that were proven financially infeasible. The actions taken this week represent a first step in what city planners say is an effort to increase affordable housing opportunities through the promotion of infill development – using existing space within the city’s borders – including areas where single-family homes stand.
The changes allow subdivisions of so-called “cottage housing” units, or clusters of homes built on a lot that can be accessed by a private drive rather than a public road. Such clusters were previously limited to one owner, which builders said discouraged development.
The law allows for denser construction if the homes are less than 500 square feet, a provision City Council President Ben Stuckart said was geared toward promoting nonprofit investment in “tiny homes” that would increase the type of housing available throughout Spokane.
“We should be allowing affordable housing in more areas of the city,” he said. “We’ve lost over time, the ability to build affordable housing in every neighborhood.”
There was some disagreement on the council about where such development should occur. Zoning laws limit building in residential single-family areas to up to 10 homes per acre. The law passed Monday increases that amount to 14 per acre if the buildings are smaller than 500 square feet.
City councilwomen Lori Kinnear and Candace Mumm said those kinds of development should only occur in areas of the city that had been designated as neighborhood centers, where investment in most city services including water, sewer, roads and sidewalks had been focused.
“We want to make sure, when it comes to affordability, we’re also looking at things like access to transit,” Mumm said. “For our most vulnerable populations, we want to make sure that we make access to those services as convenient as we can.”
Stuckart swayed a majority of the council to allow the densest development to occur within a quarter-mile of neighborhood centers, to allow the greatest amount of tiny home construction in Spokane to serve impoverished communities.
“That’s way too restrictive,” Stuckart said of Kinnear and Mumm’s proposal.
The council also narrowly approved a requirement that a maximum of two tiny homes, smaller than 500 feet, may run against a single backyard of a residential single-family home. Without the amendment, Mumm argued, an unlimited number of structures could share a single home’s rear yard.
Residents of the Cliff/Cannon Neighborhood testified about concerns the development would add parked cars to clogged residential streets. But Kitty Klitzke, director of the neighborhood advocacy group Futurewise based in Spokane, called the changes “a small, but important, step to becoming the city we want to be, and the city we need to be.”
“We need to grow like a city, or we will sprawl like a suburban nowhere,” Klitzke told the council.
The Spokane Home Builders Association, which represents developers, real estate agents and contractors, also supports the new standards.
“While tonight’s ordinance is not the silver bullet that will solve all of Spokane’s attainable housing issues, it is a compromise ordinance,” said Arthur Whitten, government affairs director for the association.
Following Monday’s revisions, the city will next look at ways to promote public transit-oriented development and foster building in hilly areas of town, planners said.
“There’s a lot more infill to come,” Stuckart said.