Two large, controversial housing projects in Spokane’s Indian Trail neighborhood already have people worried about potential traffic problems.
But after a threatening note was left on the windshields of dozens of vehicles at a neighborhood meeting Thursday evening, residents say they have even more concerns about the projects, which could build more than 1,800 living units, primarily apartments, in the suburban neighborhood.
The projects have the potential to change the character of the neighborhood, opponents say, by building dense living units in an area where single-family residences are far more common.
Local developer Harley Douglass has a proposal to build 742 to 1,485 apartment units just west of Indian Trail Road and north of Barnes Road. The project requires a change in land-use rules, which currently allow a maximum of 10 residential units per acre. Douglass has requested the city triple that limit, to 30 units per acre.
On the east side of Indian Trail Road, Dennis Crapo, the owner of the McCarroll East subdivision, is seeking a change in land use to allow construction of duplexes instead of single-family homes along the slope leading to Five Mile Prairie. The change would allow for construction of 400 duplex units instead of the 63 single-family home sites in the original plat located south of Lowell Road along Strong Road.
The neighborhood council held a meeting Thursday night at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church to discuss “normal business” and not the projects, said Terry Deno, chairman of the Indian Trail Neighborhood Council. More than 130 people showed up, and the meeting ended about 8 p.m.
“One of the neighbors went out to the car and found this note on their windshield,” Deno said. “All of sudden, at the no-drama meeting there was an audible gasp. Nobody believed this could be so blatant. It was an intimidation.”
The note, which is unsigned, informs the residents “our apartments WILL be built whether you like it or not.” The note goes on to say that anyone who “commits slander or libel will be sued by our attorney.” If the Spokane City Council rejects changes to land-use and zoning laws, it will be sued, the note says.
“We can legally beat any individual, group, and certainly the Spokane City Council has and will back down any time the word lawsuit is mentioned,” the note says. “Please save yourselves time, money, and pending lawsuits and cease and desist with this nonsense. If you don’t like it, MOVE!!!”
In a statement issued jointly with city leaders, representatives of Douglass and Crapo condemned and rejected responsibility for the flier. Other signers of the statement were Deno; Council President Ben Stuckart; and Jonathan Mallahan, director of the city’s neighborhood and business services division.
“We have come together today to condemn the flier, its hurtful words, and its attempt to pressure neighbors from being involved in the public process,” the statement said. “Everyone has a right to be heard during a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process. We all agree that these decisions need to be made following thoughtful discussion and civil discourse. This flier encourages neither, and we are saddened that an individual or individuals have chosen this damaging route to sway public opinion.”
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she was disturbed by the note, but unmoved by its threats. She said it was unclear who wrote the note.
“I think it was meant to scare people, but the threat of a lawsuit certainly doesn’t scare me,” Stratton said. “I’m certainly not afraid to oppose a development. If I had concerns about this development before, which I did and still do, after this letter appeared on these windshields, I had even more. It doesn’t make me want to sit down with the people who are responsible.”
The proposed projects are early in the process of being considered by the City Council. To be built, the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the document that guides development in the city, must be amended, which the developers have requested.
Before that change reaches the City Council, which won’t come until the end of the year at the earliest, various city, county and state agencies must review the proposal, an environmental study must be done, the public will be notified of the project and provide comment, and the city’s Plan Commission will hold hearings and make a recommendation to the City Council.
Despite the promise of a long, deliberative process, residents already have made their concerns known.
More than 800 people showed up at a January meeting to discuss the potential traffic impacts of the projects. About 200 had to be turned away due to fire code restrictions.
A petition circulating online asks the City Council to deny any changes to land-use laws “until traffic flow and congestion is mitigated.” It has garnered more than 750 signatures.
A blog focused on city planning, Spokane Rising, has come out against the projects, noting that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates the Spokane area will need 2,900 new living units over the next three years.
“That means that half of the entire region’s housing demand will be met by this complex,” according to the blog, speaking of Douglass’ proposal. “In other words, less demand for units downtown, in Kendall Yards, on North Monroe, in the Garland District, in the South University District, and on East Sprague. Less demand for units where they are so desperately needed to improve urban vitality, quality of life, and in the case of downtown, pedestrian activation. A hollowing out of our urban core.”
Deno said most comments he’s heard are against the projects, which he agrees with.
“We don’t have any problem with the development. What we have a problem with is the density of the proposal,” Deno said. “We’re a suburban neighborhood. … Even if Indian Trail was a four-lane road like Francis (Avenue), we would still oppose this. It’s just too high of a concentration. These projects are in the wrong location.”
Staff writer Mike Prager contributed to this report.
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