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

Why a divided Spokane City Council is holding off on two housing proposals

The Spokane City Council delayed voting to approve two housing developments this week, touching off debate about the city’s efforts to address the housing shortage.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Two proposed housing developments, two votes to delay.

The Spokane City Council opted twice Monday to hold off on making decisions to back planned housing projects, one on the West Plains and the other at Beacon Hill.

The proposals revisited the recurring debates between council members who demanded careful, cautious infrastructure planning versus those who insist on taking immediate action to help alleviate Spokane’s housing crisis.

The council balked when faced with a request to extend municipal water service to a planned 132-lot development near Snowdon Elementary School on West Hallett Road, south of Spokane International Airport.

Instead of voting this month, it delayed the request until 2022.

In a separate matter, the council deferred a proposal to renew the city’s development agreement with The Vistas at Beacon Hill.

The original agreement was signed in 2005 and has twice been extended, once in 2015 and again for five years in 2016. Beacon Hill’s agreement with the city expires in December, and it’s seeking another five-year extension.

But council members questioned whether the agreement, which dates back more than a decade, meets current standards for new developments.

The council decided to delay a vote to Nov. 22, and review it further at a Public Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability Committee meeting.

West Plains water

In the West Plains, property owner Marcus DeWood plans to convert nearly 30 acres of land into 132 lots for single-family housing.

The project requires connection to the city’s water and sewer lines at the developer’s expense. City engineers reviewed the proposal and signed off that it is feasible, noting two nearby water mains.

The property is outside the city’s water service area and outside city limits, but within the urban growth area.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm cautioned that by approving the extension of water and sewer service, the council would likely be determining where the city’s borders eventually expand.

“We’re making a commitment to expand the city there without really having the full discussion,” Mumm said.

Mumm also objected to voting on this proposal on its own and recommended the council instead vote on it next March or April, when it typically reviews proposals to extend water service in a single batch. (The developer narrowly missed the March 31 deadline to be considered in 2021, but the council can technically vote on a proposal at any time).

“When we do it one at a time, we don’t look at the whole impacts,” Mumm said.

But Councilman Michael Cathcart was exasperated by the prospect of such a delay amid a housing crisis, saying the developer is ready to move forward. It’s adjacent to existing infrastructure, he noted, and within the urban growth boundary.

“We should do everything we can to see new housing getting built, and this is a great opportunity,” Cathcart said.

The council narrowly voted to defer the vote until 2022 – likely in March or April – with Council Members Betsy Wilkerson, Mumm, Lori Kinnear and Kate Burke supporting the delay.

Beacon Hill

The development at Beacon Hill in northeast Spokane has faced numerous obstacles, including securing financing and building water infrastructure. But city officials are hopeful that, after more than a decade, it will finally move forward.

“We finally think it’s viable, the market conditions look right to finally see this happen,” Eldon Brown, the city’s principal engineer, told the council on Monday.

The agreement with property owners Nationwide Capital Investments and Howard Capital Group covers land that would be subdivided into 35 lots for multifamily housing development.

But council members wanted to first review the development agreement in committee to ensure it doesn’t conflict with modern design standards.

“Let’s make sure that we are building something that is to our standard right now,” Kinnear said.

Burke took it as an opportunity to rail against development on the edges of the city. She argued that it is more expensive to provide infrastructure to places like Beacon Hill, which she said could require a new school and extension of public bus routes.

“When we build on the outskirts of our city, it’s not just the housing and roads that need to be done, it’s all of the other infrastructure that goes along with that,” Burke said.

Cathcart defended the project, noting the mixture of multifamily and single family housing would total 1,600 units.

“It is going to be an amazing urban village in our community,” Cathcart said.

Mayor Nadine Woodward told The Spokesman-Review that the council’s hesitation regarding the housing proposals is “disappointing.”

“Sometimes you have to be more flexible,” Woodward said, adding her office has worked to jumpstart the Beacon Hill development in particular.