Developers hoping to build or refurbish apartments in busy commercial areas of the city and along bus routes won’t need to provide off-street parking under a new law approved by the Spokane City Council on Monday night.
City Council President Ben Stuckart sponsored the law, which he said will encourage developers to build with transit options in mind, reduce the number of cars on the road and drive down rents. The forgiveness of paved parking applies only to projects that include four or more housing units and are located in areas designated for denser development and greater pedestrian access. They must also be approved for an exemption of property taxes that is only available in select areas of the city, including downtown, along the Monroe, Division and Sprague corridors and in Hillyard.
“Bottom line, we have to remove the policies that prioritize the temporary parking of vehicles over the permanent housing of people,” Stuckart said.
The ordinance passed unanimously. City Councilman Breean Beggs was absent from the meeting.
Apartment complexes are generally required to provide at least one parking space for every 1,000 square feet of inhabitable floor space under city law. Single-family homes must provide one off-street parking space for up to three bedrooms, then another space for each additional bedroom after that.
In proposing the changes, Stuckart appealed to two groups who often find themselves at odds: developers and advocates for thoughtful growth within city boundaries. The council president pitched the changes as slashing the city’s red tape preventing infill and encouraging transit as an alternative to vast parking lots and clogged motorways.
Arthur Whitten, director of government affairs for the Spokane Home Builders Association, said the developer group favored the change and would advocate the program being extended to farther reaches of the city.
“We are seeing increased urban growth that faces challenges from suburban style development regulations,” said Whitten. “It’s allowing market-driven decisions for infill.”
Whitten encouraged the city to re-examine what Stuckart called “a pilot program” in six to nine months and determine whether building without parking makes sense in other areas of the city. Stuckart said before the vote he intended to review the results even more frequently than that.
Kitty Klitzke, Spokane program director for the group Futurewise that advocates against urban sprawl, said they, too, supported Stuckart’s proposal. She called the move “a baby step” toward achieving a balance of development standards that allow smart growth.
“Urban developers have to be innovative, and if we’re regulating them out of areas that’s when we see the green field development and sprawl that people also hate,” Klitzke said.
At the request of City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, the panel reduced the allowable space where developers could seek the exemption. Tax-exempt projects are allowed in swaths that include several blocks surrounding major arterial streets, but the ordinance limits approval of the waiver to areas designated under city code as centers and corridors, areas slated for denser development that also include greater pedestrian access.
“To make this work, I think it needs to be in areas where people can walk to services,” Mumm said.
The restriction prevents developers from seeking the exemption along most of Division Street, except for an area northeast of the NorthTown Mall. But it includes all of the areas of the North Monroe Corridor now undergoing a roughly $9 million “road diet” construction program.
Despite being outside the area, Sandy Gill, a resident of the North Hills neighborhood on the west side of Division Street for more than three decades, said she was concerned residents weren’t notified of the change.
“I’m not opposed to it, but I would like us to think about the potential implications of it,” said Gill, who represents the North Hills neighborhood at the citywide Community Assembly and said she hadn’t heard of the proposal until it was published in the newspaper Monday morning.
“My concern in saying ‘Let the developers decide,’ is that their main concern is often their bottom line, not the other people who live around them,” Gill said.
Klitzke said she shared some of the trepidation about removing regulations on developers, but called fears of rampant development “overblown.”
“The biggest pain from this, is that people are going to have to learn to parallel park,” she said. “If I’m wrong, it will get adjusted.”
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