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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Condo tower plan struck down

Spokane’s hearing examiner shot down a proposed 196-foot condominium tower rising from Peaceful Valley, saying Riverview on Riverside’s height would unfairly harm the neighborhood and could open the door to similar projects.

“The design appears to turn its back on Peaceful Valley and does not mitigate the negative effects of the increased height on adjacent properties,” Hearing Examiner Greg Smith wrote in his decision. “If this tower is approved then it sets precedent for future similar projects. In that case, the height restrictions found in the (building) code essentially go away and the reasons for enacting them in the first place will not be realized.”

Developer Mick McDowell said he will appeal the decision to Spokane County Superior Court and is considering suing the city. McDowell said the land-use change preventing him from building the 52-unit condominium tower was enacted in 2003 without property owners’ knowledge. On part of his property, McDowell would be allowed to build 150 feet above Riverside Avenue. But another portion of the property, which stretches down into Peaceful Valley, restricts structures to 35 feet high. McDowell sought a variance to build the tower.

“I’m obviously terribly disappointed that the process didn’t allow me to bring to fruition a condo project that I’ve had in front of the city since 1999,” McDowell said. “The city planning department saw fit to take away my development rights and force me to petition the hearing examiner for a variance to build something I’ve been planning for seven years. They did so without any public notice or public hearing.”

The city’s planning department has convened a stakeholder group, including property owners, to examine those development regulations and make adjustments if necessary, said Ken Pelton, a city planner. Any recommended changes would be sent to the planning commission, and then to the city council, Pelton said.

Peaceful Valley residents, however, applauded the hearing examiner’s decision, saying the proposed development does not benefit their neighborhood. The first three stories would provide parking for the tower with the garage entrance in Peaceful Valley.

“A 200-foot tower, I think anybody in any neighborhood would be fighting that,” said Gary Jewell, a Peaceful Valley property owner. “My hope would be they would go back to the drawing board and start thinking outside the box, literally, and try to do something that provides a more human scale and more pedestrian interaction with the neighborhood.”

McDowell, who said he is weighing his legal and architectural options, also has proposed building a 150-foot-high tower straight up from Riverside, which would be allowed with current zoning. It would cast a greater shadow on the neighborhood because more of it would rise above Riverside, he said. Some 86 feet of the 196-foot tower denied by the hearing examiner would stretch up from Peaceful Valley to Riverside, leaving 110 feet of the tower above Riverside.

“I should be able to do what I’ve spent all this money designing,” said McDowell, who estimated he’s spent $1 million on predevelopment. “Every comprehensive plan identified that area as being ideal for high-density residential structures.”

Jewell said he doubts Peaceful Valley has heard the end of this proposal, or others like it.

“I would be very pleased if any of these developers came back with a very different kind of housing proposal, one that didn’t have this skyscraper sort of model,” Jewell said. “It seems like something that’s appropriate among the other tall buildings in the downtown core, but bordering a residential neighborhood, there has to be some transition and that’s why that zoning change was put in there.”

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