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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

St. John Vianney proposal meeting draws large crowd

A standing room only crowd packed the Spokane Valley City Council chambers Tuesday to spend about 90 minutes voicing their opinion on a proposed development agreement with St. John Vianney Church.

The church has proposed a zone change for a parcel just south of the church so Catholic Charities can build a low-income senior housing complex there. Neighbors have spoken loudly and frequently against the plan, so the city and the developer negotiated an agreement to put limitations on the project.

The developer has agreed that the complex would remain senior low-income housing for 75 years, no more than 40 units would be included in the complex, the height would be limited to 40 feet and that non-diseased trees on the site will be preserved. Portions of the complex on the east and south sides would be limited to one story to help the project blend in to the neighborhood.

Many of the neighbors who spoke during the public hearing were not mollified by the proposed development agreement and urged the council to vote it down. Attorney Mark Vovos said he represents a coalition of 100 residents against the project. He said the project is extremely dense. “It’s like Seattle or Portland density,” he said. “I know of no other spot like this in Spokane County.”

Vovos described the project as being “40 units per acre.” The proposed parcel, if it is rezoned medium density residential and combined with the neighboring parcel that is already zoned for medium density as the church has requested, would be 2.7 acres. He also brought up sewer capacity, traffic and parking. “This development is going to take 40 parking spots from St. John Vianney,” he said. “It creates parking problems for the neighborhood.”

Ann Martin of Heylman Martin Architects pointed to a parking analysis submitted with the proposed agreement. By law the church must provide a certain number of spaces for the church and school. There are 189 parking spaces required for current uses and the proposed complex would require an additional 42 spaces for a total of 231. The church currently has 233 parking stalls. “I want to put a stop to the discussion about parking,” she said.

Shelly Stevens said parking is already an issue. “On Sundays and during weddings there are cars parked in the streets,” she said. The project would be funded by HUD, which does not allow discrimination, she said. “Less than 30 percent of the individuals living in this building will be Catholic,” she said. “Anybody, low-income senior, can move into this building. It’s not going to be controlled by the Catholics.”

Attorney Matt Daley said he is on the Catholic Charities board of directors. The proposed project does fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, he said. “Nobody wants development in their little slice of heaven,” he said. “The city cannot allow a minority hecklers veto to prevent a project that is necessary for the greater good.”

In this case the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does apply, he said. The law states that cities cannot use zoning to restrict a church’s activities that fulfill its religious mission because it would be a violation of the church’s rights. “This is a live issue in this case,” he said. “We are dealing with religious institutions here. It is an issue that has to be considered. This is an issue that has to be discussed.”

Traffic and sewer issues will be addressed during the permit phase, at which time Catholic Charities will have to “pony up” with any required mitigation or not complete the project, he said.

Levi Strauss said he wanted the developer’s agreement to address density, calling the project too big. “The developer refused to negotiate a lower density,” he said. “The developer has been insensitive to the neighborhood’s desires.”

Resident Sandy Holder said neighbors stopped negotiating to create the developer’s agreement when it became apparent that reducing the size of the project was not on the table. “It’s too big,” she said. “It’s not going to fit.”

Several people testified in favor of the project and one said she would like to live there if it’s built. But those voices were outnumbered by those speaking against it. “I hope you don’t strip our city of its small town atmosphere,” said Tim Bieber. “There are certain areas that are pristine and should remain untouched. There’s other places for this. Some of the heritage of the Valley has to be preserved.”

No vote was held on the issue Tuesday. The first reading of the proposed ordinance on the zone change is scheduled for the July 26 council meeting.