The Spokane Valley City Council approved an ordinance that removes open space requirements for residential properties in a mixed use zone.
Under city code rules adopted in 2007, developers were required to provide 210 square feet of open space per unit if a property was larger than 10 units and located more than 1,300 square feet from a trail or public park.
The city code also allowed developers to pay a fee in lieu of following the requirement.
The city’s planning commission held a number of public meetings discussing code changes and, ultimately, recommended to uphold the requirement that all projects in mixed-use zones provide 210 square feet of open space and eliminate the fee in lieu of open space.
The planning commission also opted to exempt properties in mixed-use zones from requiring open space – if the project includes a floor consisting of retail or office space – or if 25 percent of the building is for commercial use, or part of a larger mixed-use project where a quarter of the buildings are commercial.
The planning commission recommended the changes to the City Council in October in a 5 to 2 vote.
The City Council discussed the changes twice and decided at a Dec. 4 meeting to amend the planning commission’s recommendations requiring open space, which prompted a public hearing.
Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard said at a prior council meeting he didn’t agree with the planning commission’s recommendations because mixed-use properties typically don’t need open space.
Woodard said the proposal would disadvantage landowners, developers and potential growth in Spokane Valley because it would force people to build on adjacent land in Spokane County, where the open space requirement is not enforced and they would end up using the city’s facilities.
“And that’s what’s going to happen if we go with the proposal,” he said. “Everything is going to go in the county that’s mixed use and they’re going to work right on our perimeters.”
The city of Spokane and Spokane County do not require developers to provide open space for residential projects in mixed-use zones. But, Spokane County does offer a density bonus if amenities – like parks – are provided.
Liberty Lake requires open space for every project in its mixed-use zones that contains four or more residential units.
Spokane Valley’s open space requirements would apply only to mixed-use and corridor mixed-use zoning – not residential areas, according to the city.
Corridor mixed-use zoning is along major arterial roads such as Sprague Avenue and Pines, Argonne and Sullivan roads.
Spokane Valley resident Carol Allen said at the Jan. 8 public hearing it seems 210 square feet is not much space.
“It seems to me if you are in a mixed area where people are living and there’s business occurring, you have an even more need for green space,” she said. “You need buffers between businesses and neighborhood housing. You need places where people can go and touch the grass.”
Spokane Valley resident Donna O’Leary asked the City Council why it was considering the amendment if the Growth Management Act is in place and Spokane Valley is growing.
“The way I see it, (Spokane Valley) is growing way too fast and if you keep it up, you might as well – in my opinion – change the name to the city of sardines,” she said.
Councilman Sam Wood said he worked on the city’s comprehensive plan for a year and a half by examining zoning and looking at areas detrimental to property owners and developers.
“By eliminating the open space requirement in the MU and CMU zones, we will be maximizing the density of development along transit corridors and commercial areas,” he said. “This will help in providing residential mixed-use projects in those areas when sometimes lot size could be prohibitive if the open space requirement was imposed.”
The amendment would apply to about 40 percent of mixed-use properties in Spokane Valley because they are not within 1,300 feet of a public park or trail, according to the city.
Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she’s not supportive of the amendment because it disadvantages residents who aren’t within a quarter mile of a trail or park.
Spokane Valley Councilman Ben Wick said he is not opposed to mixed-use development, but wants to ensure infrastructure in the city is in place.
Spokane Valley Councilwoman Pam Haley said most mixed use areas would be along Sprague Avenue, which could use some revitalization.
“I know there are developers that want to do a Kendall Yards kind of thing in the Valley, which they currently can’t do,” she said. “We have so many vacant things along Sprague (Avenue). Wouldn’t it be nice if we had businesses with apartments above it that were reasonable?”
Woodard said the amendment could help bring more affordable housing to the city and emphasized it would not affect residential zones.
“I’m going to vote for it because it creates another option for housing, it creates another option for business, it creates some additional options for accumulating properties together and coming up with a nice strip, boutique type, commercial business area with apartments above it,” he said.
The City Council approved the amendment on a 4-3, vote with councilmembers Peetz, Thompson and Wick dissenting.
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