Spokane County commissioners may be able to set restrictions on a proposed controversial apartment complex near Wandermere Golf Course.
The developer, Rudeen Development, proposed to county officials this week capping the number of residences built on an 18-acre plot wedged between Wandermere Road and U.S. Highway 395. Residents of Gleneden Heights, a neighborhood to the east of the proposed development, have lobbied commissioners to axe the project because of increased traffic, stress on the Mead School District and an apartment complex’s effect on the environment and scenery.
Rudeen floated a draft contract to the county setting limits on how it would develop its land – which could set up a negotiation in which the county could demand other limits.
After testifying before Spokane County commissioners for six hours in February, residents once again packed a hearing room near the Spokane County Courthouse on Monday to listen to all three elected officials discuss the apartments with county roads and planning staff.
At issue is a 4-acre parcel in the middle of a crescent-shaped lot. The forested area already is being cleared by developers in anticipation of beginning construction on the complex this spring, which has some neighbors upset
“That is, for lack of a better term, water under the bridge,” Commissioner Todd Mielke told the room full of neighbors, who have retained Seattle attorney David Bricklin to represent them in potential litigation.
The neighborhood group says it was fine with the plans of a previous developer to construct a nursing care center on the land. But that landowner sold his plot and Rudeen bought the land, most of which has high-density zoning already in place. Residents have said they felt cheated and deceived by that process.
The smaller parcel is not zoned to allow high-density apartments on the site, while the surrounding land has been approved for that purpose.
Rudeen has sent commissioners a draft proposal that would limit construction to 354 apartments, less than what would be allowed if the entire 18 acres was zoned as high-density residential property. Rudeen also would pay Mead schools $250 for each unit constructed on the property, up to $25,000, for costs associated with taking in new students, according to the draft agreement. Finally, Rudeen would promise to only develop the area for residential use. The zoning laws allow offices, day care centers and cellphone towers to be constructed on the site, but Rudeen would be contractually bound not to build these types of structures on the land.
Commissioners set another public hearing to address the developer’s agreement. Commissioners Mielke and Al French said Monday they had to make a decision based on state law, which calls for high-density housing where facilities like sewer and power already are available, but also states the character of neighborhoods should be left intact. Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said state growth management law “is in conflict with itself” on many issues.
“This is a tough one for me,” said French, who was absent for testimony in February but said he listened to all the public comment taken at that meeting on tape.
Rudeen was sued last week in U.S. District Court by the National Fair Housing Alliance, in a lawsuit overseen by Spokane’s Center for Justice. The group alleged that Rudeen constructed multiple area apartment complexes in violation of disability accommodation laws.
French said that issue would be handled by building permit officials and would not be included in a developer’s agreement with the county, should one be agreed to.
“He’s not the first person, and he won’t be the last, to run afoul of some of these groups,” said French, referring to company owner Kevin Rudeen.
The next hearing in the case will take place May 12 at 5:30 p.m., where commissioners will take public testimony once more from residents on the proposed developer’s agreement and the findings of traffic studies.