Spokane Journal of Business

The Jounal’s View: City leaders need to impose moratorium on ineptitude

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The city of Spokane should take steps now to ensure it never has to put in place another building moratorium like the one imposed earlier this month in southwest Spokane. 

A moratorium such as the one implemented in the Latah Creek area and Grandview/Thorpe neighborhood stands to stifle the still-sorely needed development of additional housing in the region and perpetuates a long-held perception that it’s difficult to do business with the city.

On Sept. 12, the Spokane City Council passed by a 5-2 vote a six-month ban on building permits in the specified neighborhoods to give itself time to update transportation impact fees. Revenue from the current rate structure, according to council, would be inadequate to cover the cost of tens of millions of dollars of projects needed in those neighborhoods.

Council member Lori Kinnear said, “Councils and administrations from the 1990s-2000s knew that inadequate infrastructure in the area was a problem and did not act.” She added, “This temporary moratorium is the first step towards completion of needed improvements.” 

In other words, traffic-safety concerns have persisted along U.S. 195 for decades. Everybody knew it, and nobody did anything. Now, the city has been compelled to act in a way that penalizes those who had plans to build in those neighborhoods. 

Jim Frank, CEO of Liberty Lake-based Greenstone Corp., said in a LinkedIn post blasting the decision that the vote to impose the moratorium was made with a complete lack of transparency and with no advance notice to anyone. “The consequences of this decision will be far reaching and sends a clear message that you cannot safely invest in the City of Spokane,” he said.

That’s a concerning message from a prominent developer. 

The problem is further amplified by the fact that, according to a Spokane Home Builders Association statement, impact fees have been collected in the Latah Creek neighborhood for the past 20 years and have been mixed with other funds and used for projects in other areas, such as the South Hill. In the statement, SHBA said, “This moratorium was enacted in order to correct a mistake by the city; our concern is that their proposed solution will only further the housing shortage in Spokane.”

Just two months ago, the Journal used this space to laud the city for approving the Building Opportunity and Choices for All initiative. That initiative involved a series of code amendments to allow development of different types of housing that hadn’t been permitted under outdated zoning codes. It was a good first step toward addressing the present housing shortage. In light of the moratorium in southwest Spokane, however, it truly feels like two steps forward, one step back. 

Kinnear and her colleagues likely are correct that something needed to be done in southwest Spokane. But as they’re fixing this problem that’s been a couple of decades in the making, they must make take steps to prevent it from happening again in the future in another circumstance or part of town. Those who elected them deserve that.

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