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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council puts six-month moratorium on building permits in Latah/Hangman, Grandview/Thorpe neighborhoods

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Some members of the Spokane City Council characterized it as a “pause.” Another called it a “ban.”

Regardless of the definition, the City Council on Monday implemented a temporary moratorium on building permits for residential structures in a large swath of the Latah/Hangman and Grandview/Thorpe neighborhoods.

The moratorium, effective immediately for up to six months, was established via an emergency ordinance publicly introduced around an hour before the council’s legislative session. The moratorium does not affect platting, land subdivisions, renovations or replacements of existing houses, said Spencer Gardner, the city’s planning director.

The ordinance was drafted in response to a wave of residential growth taking place in those neighborhoods along U.S. Highway 195.

Council members said the moratorium is intended to give the city time to update its transportation impact fees and general facilities charges for the Latah/Hangman and Grandview/Thorpe neighborhoods.

These fees and charges are generally imposed on developers as a condition of development approval to pay for public facilities needed to serve new growth and development. Impact fees are paid at the time a building permit is approved, Gardner said.

Assistant City Attorney James Richman said the present fees and charges are not enough to cover the costs of system improvements needed with the new and anticipated growth coming to those neighborhoods.

Richman said the update will ensure the new development pays a “proportionate share” of costs incurred from the resulting infrastructure needs.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who co-sponsored the legislation alongside Councilwoman Karen Stratton, said the state Department of Transportation and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council have identified infrastructure improvements for the area that are expected to cost the city tens of millions of dollars to implement.

Kinnear said updating the fees and charges is expected to take anywhere from four to six months.

“Councils and Administrations from the 1990s-2000s knew that inadequate infrastructure in the area was a problem and did not act. It will take years to complete all the work that needs to be done in the area,” Kinnear said in a statement. “This temporary moratorium is the first step towards completion of needed improvements.”

Mayor Nadine Woodward said Tuesday there’s a challenge in balancing the need for housing versus the need for developments in those neighborhoods to fund the necessary infrastructure.

“This is a situation where not everybody’s going to be happy. I understand that, but I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Woodward said. “Don’t know if I completely agree with it, but I understand why the council decided to put a pause on development there.”

The measure passed 5-2 on Monday, with council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed. Council members also scheduled a public hearing on the moratorium for their meeting Nov. 7 as required since the ordinance was approved without prior notice.

Cathcart lambasted the council majority for what he described as a lack of transparency with how the legislation was introduced, saying he never had a chance to read the legislation prior to the vote. Kinnear had distributed printed copies of the ordinance to council members during their briefing an hour before the legislative session.

Cathcart, former government affairs director of the Spokane Home Builders Association, also expressed doubts that the fees and charges would be updated within six months.

“If we start taking places offline from new housing, we’re going to very quickly realize that there’s no place for that housing to go. This is not a good policy,” he said. “But what’s worse than simply banning housing is to do so in such a secretive manner.”

Kinnear and Council President Breean Beggs said similar ordinances have gone through similar processes, as introducing them sooner would effectively put a spotlight to the issue – and potentially allow interested parties to take advantage of the situation.

“We are not banning development. We are asking for a six-month moratorium to get the fees in line that are equitable to the development that is going in there and to kind of get our hands around what the next step is,” said Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson. “This is just a pause. It’s not a ban.”

Residents of those neighborhoods have reached out to city officials and attended past council meetings expressing concerns with the amount of development taking place in their area. Stratton said these concerns have extended to the ability to get in and out of their neighborhoods along U.S. 195 and water availability in the event of a fire.

A number of residents spoke in support of the legislation Monday despite opposition from the members of the Spokane Association of Realtors and the Spokane Home Builders Association, who argued the moratorium stifles the city’s need for more housing.

“We don’t want to be obstructionist at this point at this juncture,” said Darin Watkins, governmental affairs director for the Spokane Association of Realtors, “because that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.”

“We do not oppose housing,” said Becky Dickerhoof of Citizen Action for Latah Valley. “We demand infrastructure.”