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Friday, May 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley considers increasing building setbacks

Recent heated debates about multi-family housing next to single-family homes has the Spokane Valley City Council considering a change to the city’s development code to head off such conflicts in the future.

This year, residents living next to a parcel under consideration for high-density residential zoning complained loudly and often that the rezone would allow tall apartment buildings only 5 feet from their property. The city negotiated a development agreement with the property owner that limited building height in response to their concerns.

City staff has recommended increasing the minimum setback to 10 feet plus limiting the relational building height to less than 45 degrees as measured 15 feet above the property line. For example, if a building was 35 feet tall it would be required to have a 20 foot setback to meet the requirements. “The development community expressed concerns about this proposal,” said senior planner Mike Basinger.

When the city’s planning commission was considering the new rules they asked for input from the Spokane Home Builders Association and local developers. In response to their concerns, the planning commission decided to change the standards to limit the relational building height to less than 45 degrees as measured from 25 feet above the property line. That would allow a 35-foot building at the minimum 10 foot setback.

“The development community thought this was more equitable,” Basinger said. “You’re obtaining a higher height sooner with the planning commission recommendation.”

Having a 35-foot building 10 feet from the property line will still give residents the ability to look into the backyards of neighboring single-family homes, said Councilman Arne Woodard.

“You’re still looking down on the roof, into the backyard,” he said. “I personally like the staff’s recommendation. I think it will take care of more of the total objections. I think it creates a better feel for the homeowner.”

Councilman Dean Grafos asked which version compared most closely to the requirements in Spokane and Spokane County. The planning commission’s recommendation is more similar to both jurisdictions, Basinger said.

Woodard said that information caused him to reconsider since he doesn’t want Spokane Valley to have stricter rules than its neighbors. “Either one is a far cry from what we had,” he said. “Both accomplish what we want to do.”

“I would go with the planning commission,” said Mayor Tom Towey. “It’s compatible with the jurisdictions around us.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel asked if there was a middle option to consider. “That setback of 10-foot still seems fairly close to me,” she said. “I don’t know that we’ve resolved the problem.”

“I think the bulk and scale was more important than the 10-foot setback,” Basinger said.

The planning commission recommendation is best because it sets a new standard rather than forcing development agreements for each project, said Councilman Chuck Hafner. “I think this meets our needs,” he said.

A first reading of the proposed ordinance with the new setback and height rules is tentatively scheduled for the Nov. 13 council meeting.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to award a bid for an Intelligent Transportation System on Pines Road between Sprague and Trent avenues to Aztech Electric for $949,160. The project will install fiber optic cable to tie the traffic lights together and connect them to the Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center to help regulate traffic flow. Three cameras will also be installed that will allow people to view traffic conditions online. The cameras will be installed at the intersections of Pines Road with Valleyway, Mission and Trent avenues. The majority of the project is being paid for by a federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant.

Councilman Ben Wick said he drives on Pines Road regularly. “It will be nice to have those lights synced up,” he said.

The council also voted unanimously to sign an interlocal agreement with the King County Directors Association that will allow the city to “piggyback” on their purchasing contracts for computer equipment. The agreement will save the city money, said City Attorney Cary Driskell.

“Anytime we can save money, it’s good,” Wick said.

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