Empty seats were hard to come by, as residents living near St. John Vianney Parish swamped Tuesday night’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting to air criticism over a proposed zone change that would allow for low-income housing for senior residents.
While the council took no official action, the request – made by Catholic Charities for land owned by and just south of St. John Vianney Catholic Church at 503 N. Walnut Road – was part of an overall package of eight possible zone revisions to the city’s comprehensive plan that will be heard for a first reading next week.
But the council ultimately decided city planners should attempt over the next month to work out an agreement with the developer to try to mitigate potential impacts of the project.
A second and final reading for the remaining seven proposals, which includes the final revocation of the controversial Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, is scheduled for April 26.
The church has requested a zone change from low-density residential to medium-density in order for potentially three-story, 38- to 42-unit complex to be built. After getting slammed with similar backlash from the neighborhood, the city’s Planning Commission recommended 4-2 last month that the zone change be denied.
At times, the tone of the testimony – which took just over an hour -- was colored with a bit of defensiveness or took on an air of NIMBYism (“not in my back yard”). Comments against the project (13 in all) were often bookended by remarks that “this is not a religious issue” or “we have nothing against the project itself – not just in this neighborhood.” One woman even suggested that another Valley residential area – surrounding the closed St. Paschal’s School at 2521 N. Park – might be a better fit than her own.
Most, however, said they were concerned about speeding – there is already a problem because of parents running late students to the school, they reported, along with increased traffic generated by WinCo – the lowering of property values and damaging the character of the otherwise quiet area north of Sprague Avenue and south of Broadway.
“It would change the whole feel of a quiet neighborhood,” said Lynn Worthington, who was concerned about the potential impacts.
“This has nothing to do with the elderly,” agreed Michael Smith. “It’s absolutely economics…I feel like we’re getting steamrolled.”
“I just can’t visualize something that size being in that area,” added Elizabeth Stout.
Nearby resident Levi Strauss concurred, saying the project is “way too large,” is an “oversized megacomplex” and is “an injustice.”
Shelly Stevens said that a federal law called the Religion Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act – which is designed to protect churches and their property to fulfill their mission – would not apply in this case. She also added that supporters of the project are trying to mischaracterize opponents.
“We will not be guilted into feeling bad because we stand in front of what’s ours and want to protect it,” she said.
John Adams, who owns a low-income apartment complex at Herald and Main, also weighed in, saying he did not want to see a similar development to his own in the area, as bad renters who need to be “weeded out” and a perpetual police presence is an ongoing problem.”
“If the church wants to buy (my complex), I’ll sell it to them,” he said, which was met with applause by those in attendance.
There were also supporters of the zone change in attendance, and seven spoke in favor of the proposed project. Often, their testimony was met by murmurs or derisive laughter from the other attendees.
Robert McCann, Catholic Charities executive director, said he “couldn’t be more excited” to see the project reach completion.
“We’re really good at what we do,” he said. “We do have projects in residential neighborhoods, and the residents really enjoy us being there.”
Thomas Dixon, who has lived in the area for 15 years, said the church was there before most of the residents.
“Most of us would prefer the status quo,” he said. “It would only do good for the area.”
“Not every resident is opposed to the rezone,” agreed Rebecca Taylor. “Catholic Charities do a really good job. The parish will not allow that to not be maintained. I think it’s a win-win.”
The council has the option of following the Planning Commission’s recommendation and denying the request, approving as presented or postponing any action for 30 days to allow city staff to negotiate an agreement with the developers to mitigate some of the citizen concerns. The last option – which could end up reducing the number of units, a height limitation to the structure, reducing the number of parking spaces, etc. -- was favored by the council, which means no immediate decision will be made in the next couple of weeks.
SARP also, unsurprisingly, received criticism, including testimony from an attorney and a representative from CarMax – a chain of used-car dealerships – which is looking to build in the Spokane Valley area near Dishman Dodge in the AutoRow area of Sprague Avenue.
“There are elements of SARP that would preclude us from locating there,” said John McNamara. “We would consider the city of Spokane or other places.”
The council reached a 4-1 consensus – Council Member Bill Gothmann dissenting – to consider SARP for possible removal from the comprehensive plan during the April 19 and 26 meetings, held at 6 p.m. at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.