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Developer drops plans for controversial North Indian Trail apartment complex

Developer Harley Douglass has abandoned plans for a controversial apartment complex off North Indian Trail Road, as the city plots a future for the bustling neighborhood and seeks a solution to its daily traffic bottlenecks.

Douglass had previously been appealing a Spokane City Council decision to nix plans for the complex, which would have included 750 apartments on a 50-acre plot near Woodridge Elementary School. He dropped that appeal last month.

He will instead pursue another use for the land, which is zoned to allow a maximum of 286 single-family homes, according to court documents filed with the Washington Court of Appeals.

Douglass did not respond to a phone call requesting comment. Steven Hassing, Douglass’ attorney, said he was confident in his client’s case that state growth management laws permitted the multifamily development, but that he dropped the appeal at Douglass’ request.

Hassing said he hadn’t been shown what the future plans for the property might be.

Neighbors rallied against the proposed apartments, saying they would add to a traffic snarl that already causes long lines of idling commuters at Francis Avenue. Nearly 19,000 drivers use the intersection daily, according to the most recent traffic study conducted by the City of Spokane – almost as many as make the daily trip across downtown’s Monroe Street Bridge.

“I’ve stood at that intersection and watched,” said City Councilwoman Karen Stratton. “It’s crazy.”

The city has attempted to alleviate that problem by giving motorists the option of ascending to the Five Mile Prairie heading east on Barnes Road, climbing an 8 percent grade to hook up with Five Mile Road. That section of road opened this fall, said Terry Deno, chairman of the North Indian Trail Neighborhood Association, but has only made a small dent in the traffic issue.

“It gives us another escape route,” Deno said. “We’re still a one-way-in and one-way-out neighborhood, but it’s supposed to help.”

Residents already have complained about motorists reaching high speeds coming down the hill, Deno said.

The additional road has fueled more interest in the nearby Sundance Plaza shopping center, said Chris Bornhoft, a commercial real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate handling leasing. Real estate vacancies in Sundance were cited as a reason for the City Council to approve the apartment proposal, though Bornhoft said there’s been increasing interest even without the apartments moving forward.

“There’s a really good demographic out there,” Bornhoft said. “You could drop a pin, and have some pretty affluent households within a mile. That’s what a lot of these retailers are looking for.”

A mix of duplexes and homes is being built by Dennis Crapo on the east side of Indian Trial Road, southeast of the shopping complex and the Douglass property. Crapo intends to build 363 units on his land.

Douglass had agreed, as part of the application process, to pay developer impact fees that would have covered some of the cost of widening Indian Trail to add additional lanes heading north and south. The city has now proposed adding just the southbound lane as part of planned maintenance work on a stretch of the street beginning at Barnes Road and ending at Kathleen Avenue, which would be built in 2019.

“It’s not going to fix everything,” said Inga Note, senior traffic planning engineer for the City of Spokane. “It’s what we consider an interim step.”

Deno agreed.

“The only thing it’s going to do is get you to Francis quicker,” the neighborhood council president said. “But you’re still going to run into a bottleneck at Francis.”

Widening the street will require curb and sidewalk work, and the city will have to remove a stormwater swale outside of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Note said. The restriping and road work will be financed through the city’s street levy program, which already was budgeted for this year at a cost of nearly $1.3 million, according to the city’s plan for road construction over the next six years. Additional money for sidewalks and stormwater will be covered by fees paid by developers building in the area, Note said.

City Councilwoman Candace Mumm and Stratton presented the proposal to neighborhood residents Tuesday night, and the city will continue to collect input on the plan ahead of the proposed construction. Stratton said the only concerns she heard from neighbors were fears the new road configuration wouldn’t be friendly to cyclists and adding the lane would foster continued building.

“They can’t stop development up there,” Stratton said. “They can stop the type of development, and they did (with the Douglass apartments).”

The decision to drop the apartment complex appeal means it will be at least a year before the city would consider any proposals for the acreage that would allow more than 268 homes to be built there. Spokane annually requests applications for zoning changes, and Douglass did not submit a proposal for review in 2018.