We applaud the Spokane City Council’s recent approval of the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative, and we’re especially encouraged by unanimous approval of the measure. It’s been a long time coming, however, and there’s more to do.
Following the Council’s earlier adoption last month of code amendments easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units, short plats, and lot sizes, the newest initiative is another step toward reaching density goals that have been unobtainable in part because of long-standing, outdated zoning codes.
The new interim zoning ordinance allows for permitting and construction of attached homes, duplexes, and fourplexes in more areas in the city zoned for residential uses.
As urgent as the need is for more housing supply, some patience will be required to make the measure work.
Jim Frank, CEO of Liberty Lake-based development company Greenstone Corp., points out that it often takes more than a year to find land, design a project, and get it permitted before construction even begins.
The city now will need to allow an industry to form around the interim zoning regulations—an industry in which new and established builders will shift to fill the niche.
“It takes time to build up the kind of business infrastructure to take this on in a meaningful way,” Frank says.
The housing initiative currently is characterized as a pilot program. As the city implements the measure, officials also need to keep an eye toward making it permanent, because builders who want to convert their businesses to infill development need to know that it’s going to last longer than a year.
For such a shift to have a meaningful impact, it will need a number of builders, each doing 10 to 20 projects a year, Frank says.
The city also should provide a roadmap for people who aren’t in business as builders and developers to take advantage of the new rules, as such infill development likely will appeal to current homeowners and lot owners throughout the city, says Pete Raynor, Beacon Hill developer and member of the Spokane County Planning Commission.
The roadmap should include information on short platting and obtaining permits.
“It has to be simple,” Rayner says. “It can’t be difficult, or they aren’t going to do it.”
It has been a full year since Mayor Nadine Woodward declared a housing emergency in Spokane and the Council adopted its current Housing Action Plan. Meantime, the median selling price for single-family homes in Spokane County in June was $440,000, an increase of nearly 16% over the year-earlier month. That, combined with rising mortgage interest rates, is making it unaffordable to live here for a high percentage of people who work here.
A countywide housing deficit of over 32,000 units identified last year in a Spokane Association of Realtors-commissioned report likely will contribute to more price increases without more measures.
We encourage the city to commit to making the new rules work and to continue to pursue innovative ways to boost the number of available housing units.
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