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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee presents ‘incredibly visionary’ Spokane with award for relaxing land-use restrictions

Spokane City Council President Betsy Wilkerson receives the Smart Communities Award from Gov. Jay Inslee on behalf of the city of Spokane during a ceremony Wednesday at the Central Library in downtown Spokane.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

In 2022, politicians and city staff in Spokane responded to the growing housing crisis by drastically relaxing land-use restrictions to allow for denser housing like fourplexes and townhomes to be built in all residential areas in the city.

The pilot program was championed by both conservative politicians Councilman Michael Cathcart and then-Mayor Nadine Woodward, as well as liberals including Council President Betsy Wilkerson. In 2023, the state Legislature caught up with Spokane, overwhelmingly approving a bill that requires larger cities to similarly loosen zoning restrictions, only for the city to go further still before the end of the year, now allowing up to sixplexes in any residential area.

Gov. Jay Inslee met with city and state leaders in Spokane’s Central Library Wednesday to present the city of Spokane with a Smart Communities Award for leading the way on removing barriers to denser housing construction.

“We’re so excited here today to honor an incredibly visionary, thoughtful and successful community,” Inslee said.

The governor called Spokane the smartest, most advanced city in the state for building more housing, and praised local leaders for being willing to navigate the controversy that can come from eliminating single-family zoning.

“And I can tell you not every community in the state of Washington has had this kind of leadership,” Inslee added. “We’ve had some local leaders who haven’t been willing to stand up to take these measures, and to those leaders, I want to show them what Spokane is capable of.”

Spokane was among 11 recipients of the governor’s Smart Communities Award in 2023, which was conceived in 2006 to recognize local governments that have enriched their communities through smart planning and without encouraging sprawl. Other recipients include the city of Renton, which transformed a former Boeing airplane manufacturing site into a mixed-use retail center, and the city of Olympia for converting a former National Guard armory into a public arts center.

Inslee presented the award Wednesday to Wilkerson, and also named her “Washingtonian of the day,” placing a Washington apple pin on her lapel.

“She personifies what this community can do, and her courage in helping Spokane has really been an inspiration to me,” Inslee said.

Wilkerson took the mic to highlight Cathcart’s work relaxing housing regulations.

“Really, he was kind of taking the lead, and I was along for the ride with him,” she said.

Several city employees, including City Planner Jackie Churchill and Planning Director Spencer Gardner, were also presented with certificates for their work to allow the land-use changes to take place.

Inslee highlighted additional funding for housing in his supplemental budget request before the state Legislature this year, including $10 million to support local housing programs and $100 million to purchase property to build affordable housing. He also pointed to a bill sponsored by Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, and cosponsored by Spokane-area Democratic lawmakers that would encourage new residential development near transit.