Finally, on Tuesday, it was the Spokane Valley City Council’s turn.
After another hour of public testimony -- where the majority slammed a proposed zone change that would allow St. John Vianney Parish to build a 40-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors – six council members were able to make their feelings known on the hot topic.
Council Member Arne Woodard – who had voted on the topic as a Planning Commission member – excused himself from the proceedings, which saw 16 speaking against the proposed comprehensive plan amendment and three showing favor.
The majority of those opposed cited familiar arguments that were heard at a public hearing two weeks ago and at earlier meetings held by the council and city Planning Commission: That there is not enough parking on Walnut Road between Sprague and Broadway, where the project would be located, traffic would increase and the size of the structure would not fit in with the idyllic, tree-lined, single-family neighborhood.
In the end, the council voted 5-1 not to move forward with a second reading and final approval of the zone change and comp plan amendment.
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, who cast the only “yes” vote and noted he has lived in the Spokane Valley area his whole life, said he is not surprised by the neighborhood reaction.
“I do not like zoning, but I do put up with it,” he said, adding that he has no use for the “not in my back yard” philosophy.
“The NIMBYs should go away,” he said. “I would ask them, ‘How did you get where you live today?’”
Newest Council Member Chuck Hafner – appointed to replace the late Bob McCaslin – said the council needs to “take the emotion out of it” when making a decision on the rezone.
“If I got into the emotional part of it, I’d go 15 different ways,” he said. “Senior housing will get more important as we get to that age.”
Council Member Dean Grafos, however, said the scope and size of the project is too large for the surrounding neighborhood. That same argument was made by the Planning Commission, which voted 4-2 against the amendment.
“Putting a building the size of a football field in this neighborhood is just not appropriate,” he said.
Council Member Bill Gothmann said he has worked “very, very hard at keeping an open mind” while city staff worked out a developer’s agreement with Catholic Charities, which would build the complex on the St. John Vianney property at 503 N. Walnut Road. However, during his tenure on the Planning Commission several years ago, Gothmann also worked on including a “neighborhood chapter” in the city’s comprehensive plan so new development fit in with existing neighborhoods.
“I think that people should be able to live quiet lives without having to fight City Hall,” he said, adding that there are elements of the zone change that “disturb me greatly” and that “you would have to be blind” to not see that the proposed structure would not fit in the neighborhood.
“What do our seniors need? They need good, solid housing close to transportation lines,” Gothmann said. “This proposal doesn’t do that.”
Council Member Brenda Grassel agreed, saying Catholic Charities could, if it wanted, just moved forward with a smaller project. Under the existing zoning, 24 units – most likely duplexes, not an apartment complex – could have been allowed on the church property.
“Through all of this experience, I would take away from this that this project got off on the wrong foot,” she said. “A nice compromise would have just to have used the existing zoning.”
Mayor Tom Towey characterized the debate as being a “very difficult and emotional issue” with both sides having “extremely valid points.” He added he was “saddened” when neighborhood residents chose not to contribute to talks during the developer’s agreement between the city and Catholic Charities.
In the end, however, he sided with Hafner, Grafos, Gothmann and Grassel.
“I am going to vote with the consensus of the Planning Commission with regard to this issue,” he said. “The Planning Commission voted to not allow this zone change.”
The process to get to this point had been characterized by one proponent as an “extremely emotional issue.” With the council’s action Tuesday, it’s unlikely, she said, that a similar project will move forward at another location.
“I’ve listened to the neighbors. I’ve listened to their comments,” said Marie Raschko-Sokol, chairwoman of the St. John Vianney Pastoral Council. “There’s nothing to be gained other than senior housing. If we don’t do it here, it won’t get done. We don’t have the resources to go somewhere else.”