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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley City Council postpones vote on long-term camping, RV living and car accumulation law

A chronic nuisance property is seen in August 2021 along Best Road in Spokane Valley. The City Council on Tuesday decided to postpone a vote on amendments to Spokane Valley law that would ban adult camping, restrict living in RVs and prohibit having more than five cars.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

For the second time in a month, the Spokane Valley City Council has postponed a vote on proposed nuisance law changes.

The City Council and staff have been working on updates to city law in hopes of cracking down on nuisance properties. The updates seek to address properties where residents amass large collections of cars, live in RVs and allow people to camp in tents on their land.

Council members have said those activities create a public health risk and become eyesores. Neighbors tend to complain about the homes, too, and direct their frustrations toward City Hall.

But not all disheveled properties violate the letter of Spokane Valley’s nuisance code, which includes a host of restrictions aimed at preserving public health and maintaining neighborhood aesthetics.

The amendments would attempt to beef up city code by banning adult camping, living in an RV without a city-approved permit and owning a large number of unconcealed cars.

“These are reasonable rules to try to get to the problem,” City Councilman Arne Woodard said.

The City Council likely will approve some amendments in the near future. But after nearly two hours of public comment and debate Tuesday, council members voted to remove an entire section of the draft law and postpone a vote on the full ordinance.

City Councilman Ben Wick motioned to strike a section of the draft that would have prevented homeowners from storing on their property more than five operable vehicles, one RV and one boat on a licensed trailer.

“I think we kind of went a little too far, especially when we talk about operable vehicles,” Wick said.

City Council members Tim Hattenburg, Laura Padden and Brandi Peetz voted alongside Wick, while Mayor Pam Haley and council members Woodard and Rod Higgins opposed the motion.

Members of the public took both sides of the nuisance amendment debate.

Some argued stricter regulations are desperately needed. Real estate agent Keri McCombs said nuisance properties can bring down the values of neighboring homes.

Others said the proposals infringed on private property rights.

Valley resident Dan Allison said it’s “great” that the City Council is trying to prevent homeless people from camping.

“I think what we’re trying to do is make it so we don’t come up with mini Camp Hopes everywhere,” he said, referring to the homeless encampment on Second Avenue and Ray Street with more than 600 residents.

At the same time, Allison mostly objected to the proposal and told the City Council “this is weird that this is happening in America and Spokane Valley.”

Resident Chuck Simpson said the amendments would be antithetical to Spokane Valley’s ideals.

He said he supported the move to incorporate nearly 20 years ago, when Spokane Valley became a city.

“The reason we wanted it is because we wanted less government,” Simpson said. “What about our personal property rights?”

Wick, Padden and Peetz all said they want city staff to bring back a less restrictive draft ordinance for the City Council to consider.

The revisions could include a more relaxed policy for allowing individuals to live in RVs and remove any fees associated with the required permit. The original draft ordinance would have prohibited living in an RV for more than 30 days in a year, unless an individual’s house was under construction or the city manager granted an exception during an emergency.

All seven City Council members voted in favor of postponing a vote on the full amendments, but not everyone was happy about it.

Woodard and Haley both stressed that the city has to deal with these nuisance properties soon.

“I’m about ready to throw my hands up,” Woodard said. “The longer we put it off, the longer the police cannot come take care of these issues.”

Haley said the updates are desperately needed.

Everyone who lives next to a nuisance property understands the need for stricter regulations, she said, adding that she believes the properties tend to be hot spots of drug dealing and prostitution.

“It’s about the people who now have taken advantage and are now doing everything that they can do to make a living not working,” Haley said.

City Manager John Hohman told the council that his staff need clear direction on how to tweak the draft laws.

“You have been receiving complaints year, after year, after year, after year,” Hohman said. “You have a neighborhood that’s very consistently maintained and then you have one house with 10, 15 cars on the front lawn. That’s what you were trying to tackle.”