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Mayor, Spokane City Council agree on temporary zoning changes that would increase housing density in neighborhoods

Mayor Nadine Woodward, flanked by Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, left and Councilmember Michael Cathcart, announces the “Building Opportunity and Choices for All” pilot program outside of a multifamily home on South Lincoln Place on Thursday, June 23, 2022.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)
Mayor Nadine Woodward, flanked by Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, left and Councilmember Michael Cathcart, announces the “Building Opportunity and Choices for All” pilot program outside of a multifamily home on South Lincoln Place on Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes – oh, my.

Those and townhomes are all options Spokane officials are promoting with loosened zoning regulations to help address the city’s housing crisis.

The “Building Opportunity and Choices for All” one-year pilot program would, if approved, allow duplexes and townhouses in all residential neighborhoods and allow triplexes and fourplexes in targeted areas near transit lines and busier commercial areas.

Planning Director Spencer Gardner said the change is primarily focused on areas zoned residential single-family, which largely adhere to their description.

“We need more housing, we need more housing at all income levels and we need it now,” said Mayor Nadine Woodward at a news conference announcing the plan Thursday afternoon.

Some residential neighborhoods in Spokane, including on the South Hill where Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs lives, already have duplexes.

“You would not even know that that’s the case. It looks just the same,” he said, “but it feels different and we have a more diverse neighborhood.”

Woodward declared an official housing emergency last summer, coinciding with a Housing Action Plan approved by the Spokane City Council.

The plan and the emergency declaration both outlined actions increasing options and lowering housing barriers citywide, with increased development of duplexes and triplexes among them.

An interim ordinance to enact the program will be briefed Monday during the Spokane City Council’s Public Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability Committee meeting, with public hearings scheduled to follow in July.

City officials will seek input in the coming months from the public as well as neighborhood councils and housing advocates. Asked about any potential negative response from neighbors, Beggs said, “Whatever we do or don’t do, there’s backlash.”

“It will not change the city overnight,” he said, “because if you look at these neighborhoods, it’s not a bunch of open lots where suddenly everything is going to be different. But in each neighborhood, there will be more capacity, more choices and more affordable choices so that you really can choose which neighborhood you want to live in.”

Regardless of the changes, development would still have to fit with the character and context of the neighborhoods.

So long as it fits within appropriate design standards, Gardner said the city will “take all comers.”

“Build the housing however you have to do it,” Gardner said.

Following the yearlong pilot, city officials would plan to make permanent changes based on the feedback and results.

The ordinance has broad ideological support on the City Council as sponsored by councilmembers Betsy Wilkerson and Michael Cathcart. Woodward, Beggs and Cathcart touted the zoning changes during a joint news conference Thursday on South Lincoln Place outside of a multifamily home.

As Spokane officials enact elements of the Housing Action Plan, Cathcart said other jurisdictions need to follow the city’s example and “come to the table” to address this issue at a regional level.

“I want to stress that this on its own, this is not the solution. It’s not the be-all, end-all,” Cathcart said, “but it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s going to start to make a dent in the massive housing crisis that we’re facing.”

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