The Spokane City Council is considering loosening parking restrictions and allowing taller buildings in some parts of the city, which supporters say will increase development and create more options for homeownership.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said the regulations, which allow 30 to 50 percent less parking on attached housing and dwellings to be built about 15 feet taller, were a few of several potential rule changes designed to fill in sections of the city and combat a housing shortage.
Nathan Gwinn, an assistant planner for the city, said the regulations could encourage developers to address “the missing middle” in housing. In some parts of Spokane, he said, there are apartments and homes available, but there are not always options for first-time homebuyers or elderly people looking to downsize. Loosening the restrictions on parking, building height, lot size and other standards could encourage developers to build duplexes, townhouses or attached houses, which are sometimes called row houses, he said.
According to Spokane building permit data from 2017, the city issued permits for the construction of 490 apartment units and 302 for single-family homes. In the same time period, the city issued permits for 14 duplex units and 25 for townhouses or attached housing.
Arthur Whitten, government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association, said current zoning and building regulations are reminiscent of 1960s-era Spokane, which was more suburban. He said now that the city is headed in an urban direction, buildings may need to be taller, multifamily or attached to address the population growth in the area.
He said Habitat for Humanity, an association member, has said parking requirements, which can increase the cost of building, could price some homeowners out of attached housing. Offering homeownership without a driveway or parking space, he said, could open up more homeownership options for people who may not be able to afford houses with such amenities.
In the city of Spokane, the vacancy rate for apartments was 1.3 percent last spring, according to the University of Washington Runstead Department of Real Estate. The statewide vacancy rate is 2.7 percent and anything below 5 percent is considered a tight rental market.
According to the Spokane Association of Realtors’ Market snapshot for 2018, home inventory is down 22.5 percent compared with 2017 and prices are up by more than 12 percent.
Stuckart hopes changing regulations will kick-start development. He also wants to change some zones in the city to ensure new units are being built as the city’s population grows.
“Just building regulations alone is not going to get us to a point where we’re not at a housing crisis,” Stuckart said.
He said any proposed zoning changes, which would allow multifamily units to be built where single-family housing sits near the business district on Monroe Street, would be at least a year away and would include public feedback. This set of regulations has also been through feedback from stakeholders, as well as the planning commission.
City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the mayor supported the regulation changes because encouraging development and infill is a part of the city’s long-term comprehensive plan.
The proposed ordinances also include other changes, such as not requiring all developments to have a homeowners association and making design standards more consistent.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Jan. 14 on the ordinances.
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