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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council extends development deal for Beacon Hill housing project

Nov. 29, 2021 Updated Tue., Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:39 p.m.

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

With plans to convert a former camel farm into apartments and townhomes, the owners of long-vacant land in northeast Spokane say they’re finally ready to build new housing.

A long-stalled 230-unit housing project on Beacon Hill received a deadline extension on Monday, which the developers say will give them the time needed to finish up plans for a bustling neighborhood atop what used to be known as the “camel farm.”

The Spokane City Council agreed to extend the city’s development agreement with the owners of the Vistas at Beacon Hill, a project that calls for subdividing land in northeast Spokane east of Havana Street and North of Longfellow Avenue into 35 lots for multifamily housing.

The property’s owners are promising to move ahead on a project they envision as a tightly knit community of apartments and townhouses perched atop an idyllic landscape, with access to public transportation, a network of trails and a slate of on-site amenities.

It’s exactly the type of housing that they say the city is yearning for – the “missing middle” of the Spokane market outlined in the city’s Housing Action Plan, with townhomes and duplexes that sit between single-family homes and apartments .

Council members, who had delayed the decision for weeks, amended the agreement to ensure it meets modern development standards for public streets and requires the developer to set aside land for a 50-car Spokane Transit Authority park-and-ride facility.

Still, council members expressed dismay about the process, which last week included attorneys rapidly exchanging contract amendments during a City Council meeting in an attempt to reach a last-minute agreement.

The council ultimately held off for a week until Monday’s meeting, but the deal-making still rubbed some members the wrong way.

For the owners, the extension allows them to continue to move forward instead of starting from scratch.

The agreement has been extended twice previously, and the current iteration was set to expire in December.

The property was formerly Hatch Farms, where the Hatch family raised a variety of animals – including miniature rodeo bulls and a variety of exotic animals like camels – for nearly 40 years. The family moved on in search of more space and fewer neighbors, selling the land to a private developer.

The development agreement to convert the property to housing dates to 2005. The project has faced a number of hurdles since then, including building water infrastructure into a tricky landscape suitable to meet the demands of the development.

The property has also changed hands several times amid numerous challenges, including the 2008 housing market collapse and subsequent recession. It’s now owned by two companies, one in control of the apartments and the other, the townhomes.

Despite years of struggle, the development’s new co-owner, Ryan Buth, promised the council last week that he’s ready to move forward – if the City Council extended the development agreement.

The agreement gives the owners three more years to submit their final plans.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear demanded that the agreement included required access to public transportation. Spokane Transit Authority has not indicated that it has plans or is interested in extending service to the housing development.

But Kinnear noted that the planned development is a mile away from any existing bus stop, and the new development agreement would help ensure residents of the new multifamily housing agreement would be accommodated “without forcing them to own or drive a car.”

The owners have sketched out a potential STA route they hope will one day run north and south on North Freya Street, not far from Beacon Hill.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm credited her fellow council members and city attorneys for making “lemonade out of lemons,” but she still voted against the agreement. She argued it should have been sent back to city hearing examiner for review, and it was not the council’s job to “cut deals with developers.”

“It’s just not appropriate for us to get into the weeds on this kind of thing,” Mumm said.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson also voiced displeasure with the council’s approach, describing last week’s meeting as “horse trading at the bottom of the ninth.”

“We need a better process,” Wilkerson said.

Aside from Mumm, Councilwoman Kate Burke was the only member to vote against the extension.

Burke had previously expressed opposition to development on the outskirts of the city and warned of its impacts to public infrastructure, including the public school system.

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