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City Council rejects rezoning of 10-acre Southgate parcel for apartments despite need for new housing

Nov. 30, 2020 Updated Mon., Nov. 30, 2020 at 9:27 p.m.

The Spokane City Council rejected a proposal to rezone a pair of properties in the Southgate area of the South Hill.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane City Council rejected a proposal to rezone a pair of properties in the Southgate area of the South Hill. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane City Council rejected a proposal to rezone some 10 acres of land along South Regal Street to allow for apartment-style development due to concerns about traffic, school capacity and the land’s distance from downtown.

In a 5-2 vote, the council turned back a plan that would have allowed for construction of multifamily housing on two parcels located between what is now the eastern dead end of 53rd Avenue and the Palouse Highway. The land currently contains just a single home and some radio-broadcasting equipment, though it is bordered on three sides by apartment complexes.

As the zoning-change proposal made its way toward council, it received pushback from some neighbors but endorsements from city staff and from the city’s Plan Commission, which recommended the proposal on an 8-1 vote last month.

At the heart of those endorsements was an argument that the project adhered to the city’s Comprehensive Plan emphasis on focusing growth on “centers and corridors.”

Two such district centers – 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 up for rezoning.

As the city report notes, the Comprehensive Plan “calls for greater density of residential (development) within the vicinity of Centers. … 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.”

But Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, whose district includes the Southgate neighborhood where the land exists, argued to her fellow council members at their Nov. 23 meeting that the truth is more complex.

“On the surface, it seems like a reasonable change to the comp plan,” Kinnear said of the proposed rezoning. “However, it’s based on the false premise that South Regal Street is a legitimate neighborhood center.”

According to Kinnear, a 2009 proposal to designate a neighborhood center on Regal “violated the comp plan.” And, she claimed, the developer of the site “did not honor the agreement requiring that they adhere to centers and corridors design guidelines.”

“So here we are 10 years later, continuing to develop along South Regal without thought to long-term impacts on this area of the city,” Kinnear continued. “And this particular (zoning) request does not include a traffic study and continues to build on the supposition that South Regal is a designated corridor and therefore should accommodate density. We can’t undo what has been done, but we can require further infrastructure to mitigate congestion before any additional development is approved.

“Now that’s not to say that, forever and ever, no more development,” Kinnear continued. “But we have to look at what is happening up in that area, at the congestion that is being generated and mitigate that before we can move forward.”

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who also represents the South Hill, agreed with Kinnear about the need to address traffic and infrastructure issues before moving forward.

Councilmembers Karen Stratton and Candace Mumm joined them in opposition to the measure, as did Council President Breean Beggs.

“We desperately need housing,” Beggs said, “but we need to put it closer to the downtown core and redevelop neighborhoods and put density in there, so that we don’t have to drive people miles and miles over roads that don’t have capacity and schools that are bursting at the seams.”

But Councilman Michael Cathcart said the need for housing outweighed what he described as his colleagues’ legitimate concerns.

“Obviously, yes, the transportation corridor there is really important to look at,” he said. “Regal should be four lanes. It should be a much better environment up there. But we need housing, so I’m definitely not going to say no to this.”

Councilwoman Kate Burke joined Cathcart in voting to approve the zoning change.

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