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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New apartment development near Whitworth blocked over traffic, safety concerns

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 22, 2019

The Spokane County Courthouse is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane County Courthouse is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington’s Growth Management Board sided with a group of neighbors and a nonprofit last week when it invalidated a decision that would have allowed hundreds of new apartments near the Five Mile Neighborhood.

Last year, Spokane County Commissioners approved an amendment to the comprehensive plan that would have changed a low-density, 22-acre parcel into a medium-density residential area. According to the county’s review of the developer Harley Douglass’ application, he could have built up to 300 units but was restricted to 99 until he could build a second road accessing them.

According to the Eastern Washington GMA board’s decision last week, the county missed the 2017 deadline to create a Capitol Facilities Plan for the region, which would have accounted for any extra impacts to fire, policing, schools and traffic for the neighborhood. The most recent Capitol Facilities Plan was adopted in January 2007, and according to the board’s decision did not include money or infrastructure to handle a new development in that neighborhood.

The petitioners included the Five Mile Neighborhood Association, longtime neighborhood resident Debbie Rauen and Futurewise, a nonprofit that works to prevent urban sprawl.

Rauen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, said she generally supports infill, but her neighborhood doesn’t have the capacity to handle hundreds of new residents from an apartment complex.

“The whole project, rezoning of that land, makes absolutely no sense for this neighborhood,” she said.

Rauen was one of many neighbors who raised concerns about the new development. She anticipated the two roads coming into the area, North Five Mile Road and Waikiki Road, which now has a roundabout, won’t be able to handle the increased traffic. She said the planned development is also far from transit, libraries, grocery stores and parks and is used by wildlife.

“I don’t think it was in the best interest of the neighborhood or public safety,” she said.

Rauen said she’d also heard from families in the area who are concerned their young children won’t have a spot in the Mead School District and fear the new apartments could increase competition to get into local schools. In June 2017, the Mead School District wrote a letter to the county that it was becoming increasingly difficult to provide space for students in rapidly growing north Spokane County.

Tim Trohimovich, the director of planning and law at Futurewise who litigated the case, said it doesn’t appear the county has addressed the impact to schools.

“From our perspective, the county has no plan to provide facilities, schools, for this development right at the edge of the urban growth area,” he said.

County Commissioner Josh Kerns, who represents northeast Spokane County, said he didn’t anticipate a large impact to the Mead School District because the new development would be near Whitworth University, and he anticipated the future tenants would mostly be students without children. He said developing the area with new single-family homes, which wouldn’t have required a zone amendment from commissioners, likely would have put more of a burden on schools than apartments would have.

He also said he wouldn’t have supported Douglass’ initial proposal – hundreds of apartments with only one road accessing them – because it wouldn’t have been safe for drivers and would have limited access to the area during an emergency.

Trohimovich said the decision will mean Douglass will not be able to apply for a building permit until the issues the GMA board found are resolved. He said the county can update its Capitol Facilities Plan or the developer and the county can appeal the decision to Spokane County or Thurston County superior courts.

This is the second time Douglass has run into issues with the Growth Management Board. The area was initially approved for 50 residential units, and in 2011 he applied to increase the density, which commissioners approved. Futurewise and the Five Mile Prairie Association appealed the decision and the GMA Board ruled the changes weren’t consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.

The attorney representing Douglass did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kerns said he anticipated the changes to the Capitol Facilities Plan will be done within a year, and that it had been held up with litigation with Futurewise and changes in transportation planning on the West Plains. He said if Douglass applied again, and his application complied with state law and county codes, he saw no reason to deny their application.

“If they meet the threshold,” he said, “I don’t have an argument to deny them.”

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