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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley City Council denies Catholic Charities request to build low-income housing

Residents along Walnut Road in Spokane Valley are voicing their opposition to a rezone request  from St. John Vianney Church to build low income senior housing on its property. (J. Bart Rayniak / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Valley City Council denied a proposal to change city code from St. John Vianney Church that would have allowed Catholic Charities to build affordable senior housing.

City Council, in a 4-3 vote at a Tuesday meeting, referred the proposal back to the planning commission for further discussion about density limitations, restriction on low-barrier or no-barrier housing and requirements for any development to be for residents 62 years and older.

The proposal – controversial among residents – sought to rezone property through a city code change that would have allowed multifamily development in single-family residential zoning, provided the land is from 10 to 20 acres, includes a church and a school, and dedicates more than half of the units to affordable housing.

Multifamily housing is currently not permitted in what is called R-3 residential zoning, which allows six homes per acre and covers about half of Spokane Valley, according to city documents.

The city’s planning commission in May unanimously recommended that the City Council deny the proposal, citing concerns that it could open up development for profit-based corporations. Residents voiced opposition to the project because of increased traffic, safety, impact on infrastructure and the size of the proposed project.

The St. John Vianney proposal drew public testimony from several residents at Tuesday’s council meeting, including those who were involved in fighting a similar proposal put forth in 2011 by the church to build a low-income, 40-unit housing complex near Walnut Road and Valleyway Avenue.

Marie Raschko-Sokol, a member of St. John Vianney Parish, said while the proposal to build affordable housing was a hot issue several years ago, it’s important to meet the growing need for senior housing.

“We’ve got a crisis that’s going to happen in the next six or seven years, because if you know the statistics on aging, we’re getting older and we don’t have the resources available,” she said.

Raschko-Sokol added that parking – a concern among the neighborhood residents – shouldn’t be an issue because most seniors wouldn’t be driving a car.

Resident Linda Dixon said St. John Vianney’s initial affordable-housing proposal started with 12 housing units. Now it’s up to 70 units.

“The piece of property has not gotten bigger. The roads have not gotten wider. Our water supply is barely servicing us,” she said. “As far as when you say there’s 70 elderly people and they won’t have a car, how can they get their food? Is it going to drop down from Catholic Charities?”

Jonathan Mallahan, vice president of housing for Catholic Charities, said he knows of the neighborhood’s concerns, but infrastructure and parking impacts would be addressed as the project moves forward.

“Our intent is to engage neighbors, add something that adds value to the neighborhood and allows for growth and affordable housing for vulnerable seniors,” he said.

Councilwoman Brandi Peetz agreed Spokane Valley needs senior housing, but said the amendment put forth by St. John Vianney seems to benefit a single site.

“It really doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood either and the fact that there’s no sidewalks and putting that many housing units in such as small area – it’s definitely a problem,” she said.

Councilman Ben Wick was in favor of protecting single-family residential zoning.

“We have this multifamily desire and need, and absolutely we need to take care of seniors … but I’m not sure if the R-3 zone is where I would want to go with that,” he said, adding there seems to be plenty of land availability in multifamily zones, namely along the Appleway Boulevard corridor.

Councilman Arne Woodard said he prefers that St. John Vianney’s proposal goes to the planning commission for more discussion about density and adjustments on requirements for properties to have a church and a school.

City staff indicated there’s not many existing sites where the amendment could be used in Spokane Valley, according to city documents. Out of 25 church-owned sites in R-3 zoning, the Catholic Charities property is the only site that meets all requirements.

“I would really prefer to see a code text amendment that doesn’t look like it’s a single project and, really, the public has kind of a right to be here to say, ‘Well, this is really to benefit one person,’ ” Woodard said.

Mallahan said the organization was satisfied with the City Council’s decision to refer the proposal back to the planning commission for further discussion.

“We want to work with the neighborhood to find ways for seniors to have affordable housing and do that in a way that fits within the neighborhood appropriately,” he said. “We believe a lot of work needs to be done and that any development that goes in there would be a development that the neighborhood could be proud of.”

This article was updated June 20 to reflect that City Council did not approve St. John Vianney’s proposal as written and sent it back to the planning commission for modifications.