A proposal by a group of Spokane Valley residents to tighten city regulations and limit the number of duplexes, town homes and cottages is gaining momentum and could be heard by the City Council.
Pete Miller filed a proposal for an amendment to city code that would reduce the number of duplexes from three to one per acre; remove three or more attached town homes as a permitted use; and ensure that town homes and duplexes are owned by the residents who live in them in areas of the city zoned for single-family residential. This zoning is called R-3 in Spokane Valley and covers about half of the city.
Miller said current city code deprives homeowners who have invested and cared for their homes over many years of their right to peaceful and quiet enjoyment.
“What’s happening is developers are coming in, picking up larger pieces of ground and building entire duplex communities for rent within (single-family neighborhoods),” she said. “Right now in Greenacres, we are running 88 percent duplex development as opposed to single-family homes.”
Cottages and duplexes are allowed in single-family, multifamily, mixed use and corridor mixed use zones. (Corridor mixed use zones are areas that allow light manufacturing, retail, multifamily and offices along major transportation corridors.) City code allows six single-family homes or three duplexes per acre in R-3 zoning.
Spokane Valley issued 138 building permits for single-family homes last year, 142 permits for duplexes and 294 permits for apartment units, according to the city.
Miller said residents aren’t necessarily opposed to duplexes, but are against developers building several duplexes in lots approved for single-family homes without their knowledge.
“Most people’s definition of a single-family home is not a duplex or town homes, six in a row,” she told the planning commission during a recent hearing. “What’s happening is public hearings are set for 15 residential lots and residents don’t know what’s actually being built.”
“So that’s what we are faced with,” she added. “It’s disheartening. It makes everybody angry, so I would hopefully think that you would see fit to recommend these changes to the City Council or some version thereof.”
The amendment gained support from more than 14 people concerned the continued increase in duplex development is jeopardizing property values and changing the character of their neighborhoods.
City staff saidthe proposed amendment might reduce affordable housing options and types, affect anticipated development rights and be difficult to implement.
Staff also indicated the code amendment wasn’t consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, which indicates allowance of a broad range of housing opportunities to meet the needs of the community.
The Spokane Home Builders Association sent a letter to the planning commission voicing opposition to the amendment stating it “has serious concerns regarding the intent of applicants, which are geared at infringing on private property rights while blocking opportunities for much needed attainable housing in the community.”
William McDonald said apartment complexes and dozens of duplexes nearby have exponentially increased traffic in his neighborhood.
“Adding new rental duplexes to owner-occupied properties will continue to decrease our property values, increase population density issues and further exacerbate traffic flow,” he said.
Vadim Smelik said the planning commission should consider how such a change would affect low- or median-income residents or people moving from out-of-state who can’t afford a house right away.
“I’d also like to argue that house prices aren’t falling due to units being built around them. I work in real estate and have only seen prices go up in five years,” he said. “I’d also like to add that, to me, this feels a little bit like isolationists – people who don’t want infill, or maybe don’t want a certain type of income or type of people moving in near them adding traffic commotion.”
Smelik said younger generations are looking to live in cities with affordable housing and also want different types of housing such as town homes or cottages.
“I know a lot of people my age may not have a lot of money, but they still need a place to live,” he said. “And, I know a lot of people don’t want to own a home because they don’t see the financial benefits in it due to the interest paid in a mortgage, or property taxes, or unforeseen maintenance issues.”
The planning commission voted to continue the discussion at a Feb. 14 meeting.
Miller said she is pleased the commission is taking time to think about the amendment.
“This the best we can hope for right now. My concern is, do they have enough information and time to figure out what’s going on in the community?” she said. “Hopefully, if the planning commission comes up with an alternative for us rather than just say no, we would be very grateful and we will continue to work as hard as we can to take this in front of City Council.”
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