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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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High-rise foes speak out in Spokane

 Developer Mick McDowell listens to testimony Thursday at Spokane City Hall regarding his proposed high-rise condo project above Peaceful Valley. 
 (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Developer Mick McDowell listens to testimony Thursday at Spokane City Hall regarding his proposed high-rise condo project above Peaceful Valley. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Opponents of a high-rise condominium tower overlooking Spokane’s Peaceful Valley on Thursday urged the city hearing examiner to send the developer back to the drawing board for something that would have less impact on their quiet residential area.

“It’s too big. It’s ridiculously too big,” Gary Jewell said during a public hearing at City Hall.

Developer Mick McDowell is asking for a building-height variance to erect a 195-foot tower along the steep embankment just north of Cedar Street where Riverside and Sprague avenues come together on the west end of downtown.

The project’s 52 condominiums would be priced at $300,000 or more. However, McDowell said he will keep five of the units at prices affordable to people with lower incomes.

It is one of three possible new towers that could be in the works for West Riverside Avenue between the Monroe and Maple street bridges. The other two projects would flank McDowell’s 17-story structure on the east and west.

Hearing Examiner Greg Smith did not rule on McDowell’s application Thursday but kept the public record open for additional comments through next Thursday. Once the record is closed, Smith has two weeks to issue a decision.

Opponents of the project complained that the tower would cast shadows across their homes that would extend onto the Peaceful Valley community center and adjacent park during the winter. Traffic, pedestrian safety, fire engine access, garbage, noise and disruption during construction are also among their concerns.

“Where is the public benefit?” asked Jewell, a neighbor of the site. He said there is political pressure on City Hall staff members to go along with high-rise projects, and McDowell’s would set a precedent. He suggested sending McDowell and his architect back to their offices to design a terraced structure that would fit into the hillside and be more compatible with the neighborhood.

McDowell needs a zoning variance because of a 2003 land-use change that limits building heights to 35 feet in the vicinity of Wilson Avenue and Cedar Street in Peaceful Valley. The base of the tower would be adjacent to the intersection. The bottom three stories would be parking.

“I really wonder if they are treating us like the back alley,” said Jake McBurns, a Peaceful Valley resident.

Another resident, Todd Marshall, called the tower a “vertical warehouse” that is designed with “no interest in connecting people” as a community.

Resident Annie Combelic said, “I think it is destructive to our environment.”

Project proponents cited amenities they are planning that will help the high-rise fit into its surroundings. They include a pair of small courtyard spaces near Riverside Avenue on the south side along with artwork and landscaping on the north side. An existing staircase connecting Peaceful Valley with Riverside would be improved with lighting, landings and landscaping.

Architect Steve Meek complained that the height restriction is an “arbitrary line.” By moving the tower south of that line, which bisects the northwest corner of the property, McDowell could build an even taller structure, he said. Also, the developer could install a 90-foot retaining wall on the downslope side to get around the height restriction, he said.

McDowell told the hearing examiner, “Some dislike change no matter what.”

Peaceful Valley resident George Orr, a former state legislator, objected to the characterization. “I think most of the comments are condescending.”

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