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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Neighbors criticize hillside condo plan

A 100-unit condo project that’s slated for a steep bluff in South Spokane drew the criticism of neighbors attending a hearing at City Hall on Thursday.

“This whole area is a landslide waiting to happen,” said Paul Zimmerman, who was among more than 50 people at the meeting.

Hearing Examiner Greg Smith listened to more than two hours of testimony as neighbors, many of them affluent seniors living in gated communities above the proposed project, recounted concerns about traffic congestion, fire safety, loss of walking trails and soil erosion.

Tuscan Ridge is slated for 25 acres near 57th Avenue and Hatch Road and is in the early planning phases. Plans include a single access off Hatch Road and about 30 buildings surrounded by trees and landscaping with two or three units each.

The project is expected to generate appeals from neighbors who’ve watched erosion problems in nearby Highland Park, which has a home literally dangling off a hillside, and fear the worst.

Jud Heathcote, a retired college basketball coach who worked at the University of Montana and Michigan State University, had the crowd laughing when he told the hearing examiner that he hopes the condo-owner living downhill from him has a big, comfortable house.

“When our house slides down into his we can all live together,” Heathcote joked.

Randy Hahn, of Spokane-based Hahn Engineering, showed pictures of a hillside village in Tuscany, but didn’t produce any conceptual drawings of the Spokane project – an oversight that wasn’t lost on some.

“There’s something very different about a Tuscan hillside and this hillside. Tuscan hillsides are usually rock-solid,” Zimmerman said.

City representatives said property owner Yong Lewis and Hahn Engineering have done the necessary preliminary work and should be able to proceed if they adhere to a handful of mitigations. Appeals of the project are likely – meaning the developer won’t finalize plans or file a building permit application for months, or possibly years.

One neighbor questioned whether the city has enough expertise to address the project, which will require extensive engineering – including constructing some buildings on stilts bored into the hillside.

When contacted after the meeting, Dave Compton, a planner for Spokane, said the city is requiring more extensive testing and mitigations than it did for Highland Park.

He pointed to the success of Eagle Ridge and Mission Springs as proof that the city can handle hillside projects, although those areas aren’t quite as steep, he said.

“It’s just like any other PUD, it just happens to be on a hillside,” Compton said.

Spokane will require that some or all of the pads for the individual buildings receive separate geological testing, he said.

Compton said the developer plans to grant easements on the property for the continuation of a trail system that crosses over parkland and has been used by residents for decades.

Neighbors testified that they thought the traffic impact study underestimated how many trips per day the condos will generate. The developer said the units would be purchased mainly by retirees, who they expect will drive about 100 round trips per day.

Katharyn Getchell, who lives on a bend in Hatch Road, where the entrance to Tuscan Ridge is proposed, thinks a proposed turn lane will cause problems. Plus, she said, the roads are packed with drivers going over the speed limit.

When a local resident who previously worked for the Fire Department grilled Hahn on fire safety for the community, which would have a single access, he replied that if they couldn’t get away in cars they could escape by foot onto the trail system.

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