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Whitworth seeks zoning change to build housing and commercial space

FILE - A student studies in the Harriet Cheney Cowles Library Memorial Library on the Whitworth Campus. The university is seeking a zoning change to development housing and commerical space on its campus. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - A student studies in the Harriet Cheney Cowles Library Memorial Library on the Whitworth Campus. The university is seeking a zoning change to development housing and commerical space on its campus. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Whitworth University plans to build retail shops as well as dozens of student and senior housing units on its campus.

The private college is seeking a zoning change from Spokane County to allow commercial and mixed use development on more than seven acres of its land near Hawthorne Road and Division Street.

Christopher Eichorst, Whitworth’s director of facilities services, said the university needs flexibility to adapt to development based on student and market demand as well as maintain a competitive edge in the higher-education marketplace.

The zoning change, approved by the planning commission, would allow for a proposed 30-unit student housing complex on land north of Hawthorne. The land now contains 16 single family homes converted into themed student housing, according to an application filed with Spokane County.

“Part of the challenge is (the existing) housing is great for students,” said Eichorst. “Those work out pretty well, but we had input from students for apartment-style condos for older students to bridge that gap.”

Plans also call for addition of a coffee shop, restaurant or bookstore as well as development of more than 47 units of senior housing on land south of Hawthorne.

A partnership between the proposed senior housing community and the university could benefit nursing and health sciences students, said Eichorst.

Hawthorne Hall – which is used for classrooms, offices and a student print shop – could be expanded to allow for 15,000 square feet of retail space at the intersection of Hawthorne Road and Division.

The university plans to continue using Hawthorne Hall, but it could be replaced in the future, said Eichorst.

“It doesn’t necessarily fit into the rest of the look of Whitworth,” Eichorst said. “Our long term plans would be to do something completely different for that corner. There’s an opportunity to say, ‘This is Whitworth University right here.’ ”

Eichorst said funding for future development could be obtained from private donors, bonds, or a private partnership agreement.

Dwight Hume of Parsons Burnett Bjordahl & Hume LLP, who applied for the zoning change on behalf of Whitworth, said it allows the college to move forward with future campus improvements.

“It’s all about working and responding to the need for expanding and improving enrollment space,” he said.

While the proposed housing developments are based on Whitworth’s long-term master plan, they are unlikely to occur within the next three to five years, said Lawrence Probus, vice president for finance and administration at Whitworth.

However, development of a coffee shop or restaurant to expand options for students is likely to occur in the next 12 to 24 months, Probus said.

Whitworth has many projects in the works including construction of the Beeksma Family Theology Center, a new athletic center and expansion of the Johnston Science Center.

“I think anything Whitworth does will enhance the neighborhood and make it more attractive for people living there,” Eichorst said.

Spokane County Planning Commissioner Clyde Haase said the commission is eager to participate with Whitworth for future improvements.

“We feel that this is a positive direction for the existence of Whitworth University,” he said. “We need to be aggressive in moving forward.”

The comprehensive plan amendment now goes to Spokane County commissioners for a vote.

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