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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Zoning change promoting more multi-family housing, townhomes in Spokane up for a vote, public hearing Monday

Spencer Gardner is the city of Spokane's planning director.   (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spencer Gardner is the city of Spokane's planning director.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

The Spokane City Council is set to vote Monday on temporary zoning changes to open up more areas to duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhouses.

For a one-year period, the interim zoning ordinance would permit duplexes and townhouses in all residential zones as well as triplexes and quadplexes citywide.

Dubbed the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative, the goal with the one-year pilot is to make way for more housing now while working toward permanent future changes, said Spencer Gardner, the city’s planning director.

Members of the City Council and Mayor Nadine Woodward have endorsed the changes as ways to provide more flexibility for more housing stock during what’s been declared a housing emergency in Spokane.

“If we truly believe this is a housing emergency, then we need to be acting quickly,” Gardner said. “You don’t walk out of a building that’s about to collapse on you. You run.”

A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for Monday’s council meeting prior to the vote.

Gardner said residents should not expect a sea change to their neighborhoods if the interim zoning ordinance is approved. He isn’t anticipating that people will suddenly tear down their homes to build duplexes, for example.

“Where I think you will see an impact is with vacant lots, underused property and also lots that are distressed and already subject to redevelopment pressure,” Gardner said during the council’s Public Infrastructure, Environment, and Sustainability Committee meeting last month. “Then the last is existing housing that used to be a duplex, or maybe a threeplex, that got deconverted at some point but could be reconverted back.”

When the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative was unveiled last month, it proposed to only allow triplexes and quadplexes within a quarter-mile of major transit stops and a half-mile of busier commercial areas known as center/corridor zones.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear last week attempted to amend the ordinance to include that language. The amendment failed on a 3-3 split vote, with council members Jonathan Bingle, Michael Cathcart and Betsy Wilkerson in favor of allowing triplexes and quadplexes citywide.

Councilman Zack Zappone, who was absent for that Monday’s meeting, said he is undecided on where he stands with the amendment.

Approximately two-thirds of the city’s residential land is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, Gardner said.

The ordinance accordingly reduces the zoning code’s allowable dimensions for townhouses, such as lot sizes and widths, as the current dimensions would result in financially impractical and “comically large” townhomes, Gardner said.

A difference between townhouses and duplexes/triplexes/quadplexes is how easily they can be sold. A quadplex, for instance, is four units in a single building on one lot in which the units can’t be sold separately. Meanwhile, a townhouse is usually a row of attached, individually owned dwellings.

While the zoning change would allow for more housing options, the city’s other development standards – such as the building code, lot coverage regulations and setback limits – would still apply, Gardner said.

Kinnear emphasized the move will not completely solve the city’s housing woes.

“I want to make sure people understand this isn’t necessarily an affordable option,” she said late last month. “Is it more affordable than single-family? Perhaps, in some cases, but not the blanket across the board.”

Gardner said the changes could lead to more housing at all income levels.

“As we provide more housing at the top, the opportunities then spill downward so that people at the bottom of the ladder also have more housing available for them as well,” he said. “So even though this isn’t really addressing the bottom rungs of the ladder directly, there is probably some indirect benefit.”

If the ordinance is approved, officials are anticipating a public hearing in September to see how the changes are going.

“As a pilot, this only lasts for a year,” Gardner said, “and if there are neighborhoods where we’re seeing disproportionate impacts, we have an opportunity to go in and adjust on the fly as part of our one-year work plan.”

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