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‘Suddenly, there’s options’: Spokane City Council OKs one-year zoning change allowing multi-family housing, townhouses in all residential zones

July 18, 2022 Updated Mon., July 18, 2022 at 10 p.m.

Spokane County’s housing market continued to cool off in October as rising interest rates and inflation are putting downward pressure on sales.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County’s housing market continued to cool off in October as rising interest rates and inflation are putting downward pressure on sales. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Make way for the “missing middle.”

The Spokane City Council signed off Monday on a temporary zoning change to open up the city to more multifamily housing styles and townhomes, options that have been defined as ”missing middle” housing.

The interim zoning ordinance will allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes in all residential zones citywide for one year. The ordinance has no restrictions on the allowable number of attached townhouses.

Known as the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative, the interim zoning change was first introduced last month with endorsements from Mayor Nadine Woodward and the City Council as a way to help solve the city’s housing crisis.

Spencer Gardner, the city’s planning director, has said the one-year time frame allows the city to expand housing options now so officials can work toward permanent changes in the future.

State law allows the city one year to institute this kind of program, said Gardner, who added that the City Council could extend the pilot once the year is up and permanent changes are not in place.

“Our hope is we will have those permanent changes done in that one-year period,” he said. “We don’t anticipate a need to extend, but if that arose, it is a possibility.”

Councilman Michael Cathcart touted the initiative as one that will increase rental access, homeownership opportunities and affordability citywide.

“Suddenly, there’s options,” Cathcart said. “You can live in the lifestyle that you want to live in because we’re creating a pathway to all of these different options. And as we build these houses, it creates a compression effect, and people are able to move up and down that ladder as a result of the increased supply.”

Back when it was first introduced, the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative limited triplexes and quadplexes to areas within a quarter-mile of major transit stops and a half-mile of busier commercial areas.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear sought to reintroduce those restrictions on three- and fourplexes Monday with an amendment, but failed to garner enough support from the rest of the council.

“Reflecting on this being a one-year interim zoning change, I think I would like to see citywide up to fourplexes to see what that would look like in the next year and then next year potentially consider that,” Councilman Zack Zappone said, “and also look at how can we work with developers to make sure we’re going to incorporate some affordability in the long term, too.”

Despite this, the council’s vote to authorize the interim zoning ordinance was unanimous.

“I was going to vote no on this, and I realized that we need more housing. By the way, we need more housing,” Kinnear said. “I have to support it. I still have an issue with the fourplexes everywhere, but if that’s my only issue, I still need to go forward and support this.

“I think this is important for our city,” she continued. “We absolutely have to do something to lower rental prices and increase housing and affordability for everybody.”

The change received significant public support from the majority of those who spoke during a public comment period prior to the vote.

A public hearing is scheduled for September to evaluate the changes.

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