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Easing downtown Spokane building height caps could get second look from commission

FILE - A shadow can be seen partly cast over Riverfront Park on Friday, March 10, 2017, from the Riverpark Square parking garage in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - A shadow can be seen partly cast over Riverfront Park on Friday, March 10, 2017, from the Riverpark Square parking garage in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Plan Commission may reconsider its endorsement of a plan that would reverse long-standing building height restrictions next to Riverfront Park.

The group met Wednesday at City Hall, a little less than a month after unanimously approving zoning changes that would do away with a shrinking size rule for buildings built higher than 100 feet along Spokane Falls Boulevard. At that meeting, several prominent developers and real estate agents in Spokane urged commissioners to ease restrictions in the midst of a downtown building boom and let the market determine what should be built on two surface-level parking lots across the street from the Looff Carrousel.

In the weeks since, commissioners had expressed unease with the decision. At a joint session of the City Council and the Plan Commission following the vote, several commission members said they had reservations about their vote, City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

“How are we supposed to interpret that?” Kinnear said. “That you’re voting for this, but you don’t really believe it.”

The height restrictions were put in place to reduce shadows in areas of Riverfront Park. A report prepared last fall by the Plan Commission following several months of study on the issue indicated the Howard Street promenade, under construction as part of the park’s $64.3 million taxpayer-funded redevelopment, was “the key resource to protect” from areas of shade.

Todd Beyreuther, vice president of the commission, convinced the panel to wait until mid-June to determine whether it wanted to reconsider its decision. Beyreuther, also director of advanced building materials at the construction firm Katerra, told members he intended to return to the panel with additional information about what he called “performance-based standards,” which in addition to shading could include things like what the building is being used for and how the design would affect temperature in certain areas of the park.

“Let’s say the wagon, it’s supposed to have a certain micro-climate for kids to be on there,” Beyreuther said, referring to the red wagon statue and slide in the southeast corner of the park. “I don’t want to cook an egg on it, but I want sunlight.”

Chris Batten, a fellow commissioner and also a principal at the real estate firm RenCorp Realty, cautioned against starting what has become a yearlong process over again.

“We spent a year going through this, and we have an ad hoc committee,” Batten said. “We hired professionals to come in. We hired a consultant to come in.”

Beyreuther said he believed he could return with enough information for the group’s June 13 meeting for members to determine if additional standards should be written into the zoning code, which only encompasses a little more than a dozen properties along Spokane Falls Boulevard. The panel unanimously chose to delay its decision until then, which will be subject to the approval of the Spokane City Council.

Beyreuther said in an interview Thursday he believed the panel could come up with a system of review that wouldn’t pit park enthusiasts against real estate interests.

“This process is not successful if we end up pitting economical development versus defense of public space,” he said. “There are win-wins across many different formulas, and we should have that flexibility.”


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