The saga of the war on Walnut Road may soon come to a close.
Next Tuesday at 6 p.m., the Spokane Valley City Council is expected to vote on a proposed developer’s agreement and zone change for St. John Vianney Parish. The meeting will take place at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.
A second vote will be necessary to make the act official. That action is expected at the Aug. 9 meeting of the council.
Before any of this activity, however, the council – minus an ill Bill Gothmann and a recused Arne Woodard, who voted on the matter when he was a member of the Planning Commission – sat and listened to over 90 minutes of testimony at a public hearing on July 12.
Every seat was taken, and neighbors stood in the council chamber doorways at the hearing, where there were plenty of arguments made on both sides of the hotly contested issue. In the end, arguments were pretty closely divided with 13 speaking against the rezone and 11 arguing for it.
Through the efforts of Catholic Charities, the church is seeking a zone change on its property on Walnut Road between Broadway and Sprague avenues. Many residents in the surrounding area – including those living on parallel Farr and Herald roads – have raised concerns over church plans for a 40-unit low-income apartment complex for senior citizens, citing issues with parking, traffic and building size.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 earlier in the year to deny the zone change, and the City Council voted twice to delay the issue so city staff, Catholic Charities and neighborhood residents could iron out a developer’s agreement that would be amenable to all sides.
However, at the public hearing, some of those neighbors said they decided to opt out of the discussion once it became clear that Catholic Charities was not interested in limiting the number of residences in the complex.
“The developer clearly thought the neighborhood were idiots,” said Shelly Stevens.
Instead, the agreement seeks to guarantee that the use for the low-income complex would not broaden beyond senior-citizen residences for 75 years, the height of the building would not be greater than 40 feet and that nondiseased trees would be preserved. Also no more than 40 units would be constructed, and the east and south sides of the building would be limited to one story.
An attorney representing opponents – wielding plenty of visual aids – attempted to convince the council that nothing like what was proposed for 503 N. Walnut existed anywhere else in Spokane County.
“It’s like Seattle or Portland density,” said Mark Vovos, who added that the church would not supply adequate parking. “What you’re going to do is put 40 cars out on the streets.”
Ann Martin of Heylman Martin Architects countered that there would be plenty of space for cars – 189 existing plus an additional 42 that would be made available for 231 total.
“I want to put a stop to all of this discussion about parking,” she said, adding that the city would continue to work with the developers once a building permit was sought. “There is going to be another study. All of this will be addressed in the permitting process.”
Dan Hipple, who lives two blocks away from the church, took a different tact in arguing against the proposed complex.
“I believe the solution is in our own homes,” he said. “You’ve got room. We need to make room for the elderly.”
Chris Pierce, who lives a block away, said he saw no problem with the project and that it would boost the local economy.
“If you’re for property rights, this is a perfect example,” he said. “We’re talking about a zone change for two lots.”
Matt Daley, an attorney for Catholic Charities, said if the council denies the zone change it would be denying the church from performing its mission of caring for the elderly. The Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act – which seeks to protect religious institutions in these types of land-use cases – would be in effect, he said.
“The staff found it was the right plan,” Daley said.
Tim Bieber, who also lives nearby, said the city was jeopardizing its future by growing too fast.
“I hope you don’t strip our city of its small-town atmosphere,” he said. “You have to preserve some of the heritage.”