The Spokane City Council is set to decide Monday whether to open the door to the development of new apartment complexes on 10 acres of land between what is now the eastern dead end of 53rd Avenue and the Palouse Highway.
The proposal to rezone two parcels that contain just a single home and some radio-broadcasting equipment would allow for a residential multifamily development in what has transformed into a densely populated urban area on the southern edge of the city.
But while a number of apartment complexes already exist on adjacent lots, the proposal to change how the land can be used was the subject of some pushback from neighbors after a presentation about the proposal at a Feb. 2 meeting of the Southgate Neighborhood Council.
There, six people filled out comment cards that raised a number of concerns about the project, including its potential to increase congestion in the area, its effect on school overcrowding and the inclusion of low-income units.
Those objections weren’t enough to stop the city’s Plan Commission from recommending the project by a vote of 8-1 last month. But the one naysayer, Clifford Winger, penned a dissenting opinion that the “project conflicts with good city planning goals” included in the state’s Growth Management Act. Namely, Winger wrote, the addition of “high density housing in this most southerly area” of the city “creates population sprawl.”
But a staff report prepared as part of the proposed amendment to the city of Spokane’s Comprehensive Plan argues that the project fit in with that plan’s emphasis on focusing growth on “centers and corridors.”
Two of the official District Centers included in that plan – one known as the Southgate District Center, which includes several properties near the intersection of Regal Street and Palouse Highway, and another just south on Regal at 57th Avenue – lie on either side of the land set to be rezoned.
As the city report notes, the Comprehensive Plan “calls for greater density of residential within the vicinity of Centers” and for “more dense development within an area of ‘30 to 50 square blocks.’ As the proposal would increase the residential density of land adjacent to and in close proximity to two District Centers, the proposal appears consistent with the containment and density requirements of these Comprehensive Plan policies.”
A limited liability corporation known as 3227 E. 53rd Ave. LLC first applied for the change to its lot in October 2019, and the staff report notes that the “intent of the applicant is to potentially develop higher density residential uses” on the more than 5 acres that lie at the end of 53rd Avenue.
Dwight Hume, an agent from Land Use Solutions and Entitlement who has worked on the landowner’s behalf to pursue the change, said, “There is no project right now on my client’s property. He’s not a developer. But there’s strong interest from others to buy it. So he’s in a good position to pick and choose.”
If the city approves the zoning change, the land’s value is likely to be much higher than it was before the owner embarked on the uncertain, more than yearlong effort to make the switch.
As for the second, 4.8-acre lot at 5106 S. Palouse Highway also being considered for rezoning, the report notes that the “owner of that additional parcel” – Triathlon Broadcasting of Spokane – “has not indicated any desire or plans for future development at this time.”
Hume said the city initiated the process of changing the zoning there because the parcel otherwise would have been an island of single-family zoning surrounded by land allowed to have multifamily development.
“They didn’t want to leave a donut hole, so they took the opportunity” to include it, Hume said.
But while the changes would undoubtedly lead to more people and more cars in the area, the question of how the zoning switch could ultimately impact traffic has not been answered.
“The City did not require, nor did any Agency comment request or require a traffic impact analysis for the proposal,” the staff report said.
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