City poised to allow missing-middle housing

It’s hard to believe, but this structure houses not one, not two, but three housing units. That means it can house three families on a lot that previously would have only housed one! (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

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Want to express your support for this transformational package of zoning reforms? Send a quick note to City Council now.

A version of this piece originally appeared in The Urbanist on July 5.


For years, West Coast cities have been facing a housing emergency, as chronic under-building of housing met massive demand, spurred by good jobs and the high quality of life that we all love. During the pandemic, this challenge has been particularly acute. And now it’s spilling over into second-tier cities.

Spokane is no stranger to this phenomenon. The city’s Housing Action Plan, which was completed a year ago, found that more than 40% of residents were cost-burdened, with housing prices fast outpacing income growth. More recently, renters have been arriving home to massive rent increases, in some cases doubling their rent. And in May, the median home price hit a record $450,000 — a 20% year-over-year increase, and a stunning 55% increase over the past two years. 

These trends are not sustainable, and it’s one of the reasons I and many of my fellow advocates have been calling (in some cases for years or even decades) for massive zoning reform and better renter protections. Evidence is abundant that allowing more of these small-scale housing units can improve a neighborhood’s affordability without displacing longtime residents.

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In its original formation, missing middle housing types ranging from duplexes to small apartment buildings. (Credit: Opticos Design)

Now, finally, key Spokane leaders announced their intention to finally do something about it — and do something bold. 

City Council President Breean Beggs, Mayor Nadine Woodward, and Councilmember Michael Cathcart proposed a pilot program which would allow, for at least the next year, “missing middle” housing on a broad scale. Mirroring the model championed by Representative Jessica Bateman (Olympia) in the legislature, this package would, among other actions:

  • Allow duplexes citywide;
  • Allow triplexes and fourplexes within a quarter-mile of all frequent transit lines and a half-mile of all Centers and Corridors zones (essentially Spokane’s version of an urban village);
  • Remove unit limits on townhouses;
  • Reduce the required lot width to 36 feet in most residential single family (RSF) zones;
  • Reduce the minimum lot size for attached homes to 1,280 square feet; and
  • Apply design standards similar to the city’s standard design requirements to all of these new unit types.

This has the potential to become the most transformative package of zoning reforms since the city’s “Centers and Corridors” plan concentrated development in an urban village framework. If adopted, it would create options to live in triplexes or fourplexes in parts of almost all neighborhoods across the city. Many of these neighborhoods previously allowed these housing options, or feature these options as “non-conforming,” often low-quality units. This would relegalize them and also go a long way toward improving housing quality. 

Even better, City staff and the Plan Commission have been doing the legwork behind the scenes (through a program called “Shaping Spokane Housing”) to improve the residential development code to make these reforms meaningful. These amendments address issues like lot size transitions, dimensional standards, design rules and parking requirements for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and townhomes, and short plats (lot divisions). Too many cities have neglected these in the weeds issues in their housing work, but many of them were adopted by Council on Monday.

The before and after, if this program passes, could dramatically improve housing choice across almost every neighborhood in the city.

Here’s how this “pilot program” will work.

First, the City Council will adopt an interim zoning ordinance sometime in July to apply these changes for the next year. While passage is not guaranteed, the announcement of this program cut across key divisions on the City Council and elected leadership, and most Councilmembers have expressed a willingness to try allowing additional density in existing neighborhoods.

Second, a one-year window begins in which the new zoning rules would be in place. During this time, developers (or homeowners!) would have an opportunity to “vest” their proposals under this more permissive code. At the same time, City staff and planners will begin community outreach for the adoption of permanent rules along these lines. A public hearing is expected in September. Staff will also collect feedback from developers and community stakeholders on how well the new rules are working, and any potential necessary tweaks.

Finally, by next summer, Spokane City Council is expected to adopt permanent updates to the Comprehensive Plan and development code based on findings from the pilot.

This novel adoption pathway in some way eases the path to long-term allowance for additional missing-middle housing. In particular, it might help assuage the concerns of some neighborhood groups, by proving that the risk of swift, major change is vanishingly slim. But it also raises the stakes on City leadership to get it right. It is critical that staff gathers feedback carefully, and not just from loud voices. It needs to hear from property developers, from renters, from housing advocates, from young people, from businesses which would benefit from more customers, and from homeowners ready to downsize who would gladly take a unit in a fourplex on their property if a developer offered. 

In the next year, Spokane has an opportunity to take a massive leap forward on housing choice. It will be up to us to make sure it sticks.

Support this zoning package!

Want to express your support for this transformational package of zoning reforms? Send a quick note to City Council now.

Major new mixed-use housing development proposed in the University District

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The developers behind the 940 North student housing building are back at it with the “University District Apartments” building, proposed for 230 N Division on the East End of downtown Spokane. The six-story building features significant architectural interest first-floor retail. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.com)

Last year, we heard that a developer was interested in constructing a 26-story condo tower at 230 N Division St, a former auto shop on a prominent site at the edge of the University District and the East End of downtown Spokane. The proposal seemed to be as serious as any in technical terms (planning documents featured relatively detailed architectural renderings), but unrealistic given the relative distance from the city’s central core and the not-altogether-great history of then-involved developer Lanzce Douglas.

Now, a new developer has submitted a Pre-Development Conference for a major development at that site. University Housing Partners of San Clemente, California already developed the already-popular 940 North project on Ruby. Now, the firm has proposed a six-story mixed-use project featuring five floors of housing aimed primarily at WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane students. The $20 million project would include 12,000 square feet of retail along both Spokane Falls Boulevard and Division Street, a critical factor in engaging the street level. 100 parking spots would be tucked behind the street as we suggested in our post on the original proposal for this site. And renderings (more after the break) feature significant architectural interest and color.

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BREAKING: Massive 250,000 square foot Jensen-Byrd District promises adaptive reuse, space for tech/biotech companies

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If everything goes as planned, by 2018, the Jensen-Byrd Building in Spokane’s University District will grow into a mixed-use area of its own, featuring tech/biotech offices, retail, retaurants, and an athletic center over 250,000 square feet. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

 

Earlier this year, WSU Spokane awarded a contract for remodel and reuse of the Jensen-Byrd Building to a partnership of Seattle developer Wally Trace and the local office of design-build energy efficiency firm McKinstry. We knew that the partners had significant plans for the site, but now we’re getting our first look at the project.

And it’s absolutely spectacular.

Not content to simply remodel the historic Jensen-Byrd warehouse, JB Development will develop a massive, 250,000 square foot adaptive reuse of the main building and the Pacific Produce Building and construct a new 442-space parking garage, a 50,000 square foot retail and fitness center, and an 84,000 square foot mixed-use tech/biotech office building. The result will be what they are calling the Jensen-Byrd District. Aimed at tech and biotech companies, the buildings will feature the large floor plates, modern data connections, and retail amenities that large companies expect, but which don’t exist at this point in our city.

In other words, if marketed correctly, these two buildings could help Spokane land a major tech or biotech tenant. It’s a dream that’s been building for a while, with significant investment in the University District (including the Pedestrian Bridge, expected to be complete in 2018) in pursuit of attracting private companies. With the right targeted action and marketing, now we have a specific site that could accommodate those demanding tenants.

Jump after the break for more discussion and renderings.

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Almost one quarter of downtown Spokane is occupied by surface parking

There are 295 acres of surface parking in Spokane’s urban core.

There are only 1,250 acres of land in the urban core.

That means that 23.6% of all of the land in Spokane’s urban core is occupied solely by the temporary storage of motor vehicles.

If we assume a ridiculously-conservative average density of 25 units per acre, we could infill these parking lots with as many as 7,500 housing units. To put that in perspective, the full build-out of Kendall Yards will include just 1,000 units. (Just 300 housing units have been built in that neighborhood to-date.) Now, not every available block will be occupied by residences; other uses, like office, retail, public squares, civic spaces, are necessary as well. But it’s a useful thought exercise.

This is the next frontier of Spokane development. There’s more space available downtown for redevelopment than three Kendall Yards (which is an 83-acre site). With this much available space, there’s ample opportunity for creativity and innovation in the local development team.

Among other strategies, perhaps we could at the very least compile a comprehensive database of potential infill sites. This database should include information on the ownership of the various parcels, incentives available for redevelopment, and various statistics, like median income in the area, information on available utilities, and nearby amenities. In addition, include information on the planning and development process for these parcels. What type of permit review would be necessary? Would a SEPA application be required? Think of it as a more in-depth version of a site-selector. The result would be a much clearer development picture for developers and investors.

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Kendall Yards goes high-design in 2016 planning and construction projects

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Kendall Yards is going modern in its attempt to woo more retailers and restaurants to its commercial district. The Bluff Building, shown here from the Centennial Trail, will offer a permanent indoor space for the Night Market. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning)

Kendall Yards continues to grow in its quest to woo more retailers and restaurants to its burgeoning commercial district, and more residents to its growing array of townhomes, condos, and apartments. Three major buildings will continue or commence construction this year, further enhancing the new urbanist oasis. Unfortunately, none of the three buildings will offer a strong mixed retail/residential component, but as the district continues to develop, we anticipate more of those types of projects to come on line.

Read on for more on the projects anticipated in Kendall Yards for 2016.

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Logan District blossoms as stage set for Matilda Building, a 57-unit mixed use project

The Matilda Building will rise on the Hamilton Corridor in the Logan District, with 57 apartment units and first-floor retail. Urban design abound. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)
The Matilda Building will rise on the Hamilton Corridor in the Logan District, with 57 apartment units and first-floor retail. Urban design abound. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)

In May, we reported on a major new mixed-use project set for construction on North Hamilton in the burgeoning Logan District. At that point, the “Hamilton Project” had just applied for a SEPA Review, the penultimate step in the process toward a building permit. Now, we understand, the project is just about ready to get underway.

The four-story mixed-use structure at 1008 N Hamilton will offer 57 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments aimed at young urban professionals, graduate students, and others interested in a University District living experience. A rooftop patio and barbecue will add to the available amenities. On the ground floor, over 17,000 square feet of retail space will be made available. One commercial unit has reportedly already been leased. Unfortunately, an excessively generous street setback may result in a more limited “urban”-style experience where people choose to access the storefronts via the parking lot, which will be located behind the building. Hopefully this grassy setback can be reduced to encourage people to commute to and from the Matilda Building by foot, bike, or transit.

Otherwise, we’re quite excited to see this project get underway, and we can’t help but notice the tremendous investment seen in the Logan District in recent years. If these projects succeed in urban form and character, there’s a potential for major disruption. There was Six on Hamilton. The Clementine Building. Gonzaga’s Boone Avenue Retail Center, or BARC. The John J. Hemmingson Center. And of course, the Hamilton Corridor Form-Based Code.

Are we witnessing the rebirth of Logan?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you excited for the construction of the Matilda Building, a major new mixed-use project on the Hamilton Corridor? Do you believe that this building, combined with other recent successes, will help herald a rebirth of the Logan District? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you!

26-story “Falls Tower” near University District promises to add around 200 units downtown

Here's a view of the proposed "Falls Tower" as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)
Here’s an early conceptual view of the proposed “Falls Tower” as it would look from Spokane Falls Boulevard. Note the large parking garage and comparatively narrow building. (PHOTO: Spokane Permits)

Back in November, a Spokane Valley dentist and developer, proposed a $50 million, 35-story high-rise at the corner of Division and Spokane Falls Boulevard in downtown Spokane. Many believed the proposal to be unlikely to ever come to fruition. But now, the lot at 230 N Division has resurfaced in a new proposal.

Lanzce Douglass has submitted an application to Spokane Development and Planning Services for a Pre-Development Conference on the proposal, which would construct a 26-story building which he calls “The Falls Tower.” It is unknown whether Philip Rudy, the dentist, is still involved. The new mixed-use high-rise would include 15,978 square feet of retail on the first floor, followed by about two dozen floors of apartments. That’s around 200 units (studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms). A six-story parking garage would also be constructed. In total, 26 floors would be constructed. Note the slightly more varied architectural style from Spokane’s most recent project, the Davenport Grand Hotel. Still, windows seem to follow a relatively generic form and minimal balconies or interesting architectural treatments are included.

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Urban infill “Hamilton Project” takes next step toward construction with SEPA application

Preliminary drawings from Spokane's permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)
Preliminary drawings from Spokane’s permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)

We tend not to post on Spokane Rising about projects that have not yet been announced publicly, but this one just happened to catch our eye on the City of Spokane’s Citizen Access permitting website. We noticed the “Hamilton Project,” as it is named in the permitting database, a few months ago, when developer Ferdinand CJF, LLC applied for a Pre-Development Conference (typically a first, optional step in the building process). But now the Washington State-registered LLC has applied for a SEPA Review, which indicates a level of seriousness we have not yet seen at this parcel.

The project is located at 1002 N Hamilton, which is just across the street from the parking lot for Gonzaga University’s Madonna residence hall. Mercifully, the project seems to adhere to the Hamilton Corridor Form-Based Code (PDF link) despite its location outside of the applicability area. That means that it includes a mixed-use design, a limited street setback, and parking in the rear of the facility. Project plans include 51 residential units above over 17,000 square feet of leasable streetfront retail at a cost of over $11 million. Perhaps most importantly, the project scale and architectural design seems to fit in with the surrounding area. When we first saw the renderings, we thought we were looking at Gonzaga’s Coughlin residence hall, which shares a similar brick-and-stucco construction. Either way, we can’t wait to see this project come to fruition and will continue to keep our readers updated as it passes through the plan review and building permit application process.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you excited to see such a substantial mixed-use project on the Hamilton Corridor? Do you see the Hamilton Corridor emerging in the future as a viable neighborhood center a la Garland or North Monroe? Do you see this as a triumph for advocates of infill? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, in the comments section below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Let’s set an ambitious goal: 1,000 new downtown units by 2020

Boise’s downtown area is in the middle of an unprecedented surge in residential development, buoyed by a City Council goal of adding 1,000 new units by 2019. (PHOTO: Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)

Boise’s City Council last summer did something pretty dramatic. In order to begin to fill demand for downtown housing, they announced a plan to award award grants and loan guarantees for apartments and condominiums in their downtown core. The goal? 1,000 new housing units within five years. Surprisingly, it’s not too ridiculous of an idea. Numerous developers have already jumped into the fray, planning to make use of special financing options, help with water and sewer from the local urban renewal agency, and of course, these grants.

It’s time Spokane set such an ambitious goal. 1,000 downtown units by 2020. Mark my words: we will make it happen. And we will do it with an attractive mix of housing options–from low-income apartments to luxury condominiums. Already Ron Wells plans to spend nearly $18 million remodeling the Ridpath Hotel into 200 low- and lower-middle income apartments and six luxury condominiums. Assuming this project reaches completion (Wells’ track record speaks for itself, although the Ridpath project has been plagued by delays), we’d be already one-fifth of the way to our goal. We could easily reach our goal if more developers jump on board. But they have to have some sort of incentive in place.

Adding residential to the mix downtown grows the population without increasing traffic or overburdening critical public services, like water, sewer, and fire protection. It adds more eyes to the street, reducing crime and making urban places more inviting for shoppers and residents alike. Suddenly the STA Plaza becomes an amenity, rather than a supposed eyesore. And perhaps most importantly, it grows the local economy by orders of magnitude. More residents downtown means more customers for local businesses like Nudo and Boots Bakery. It means more patrons at the Bartlett and more users on the Centennial Trail and in Riverfront Park. It means we’ll be better taking advantage of all that Spokane and the region has to offer. Moreover, study after study has proven that millennials and baby boomers alike prefer to live where all of their services are within easy walking distance. What better place than downtown?

Incentives need not be large. Boise is using a $150,000 fund from federal grants and lease payments on city-owned railroad right-of-way. Spokane certainly can find a chunk of money in its budget to make a similar investment. Perhaps a larger contribution or some creative development agreement could fill in the Rookery Block hole, or create a beautiful apartment/condominium complex across the street from a soon-to-be-revitalized Riverfront Park.

It’s time. Spokane is waiting. Having residents downtown pays long-term dividends. Let’s reinvest in downtown.

City Council working on changes to Centers and Corridors guidelines

In the South Perry District, Wollnick’s and Perry Street Brewing offer an upscale, but properly-scaled experience for the neighborhood. South Perry is zoned CC1 under Spokane’s innovative “Centers and Corridors” guidelines. (PHOTO: Amy Graff)

Introduction

There’s a great book written by Jeffrey L. Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky called Implementation. It’s a dense read, used mostly by upper-division undergraduate and graduate students in political science and public policy, but more than any other text, it does an excellent job of explaining how policy so often becomes divorced from its implementation. In it, Pressman and Wildavsky argue that such a separation can cause policy failure.

Spokane’s dealing with such a problem right now. Enter the official City of Spokane document entitled Initial Design Standards and Guidelines for Centers and Corridors.

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