Suburban Zone Codes

3D diagram of lots and what can be achieved.

Undoubtedly, there are many factors that determine the way a city grows. We have studied the factors considered in our last post. Over the past few weeks we have found one primary reason for the type of growth we have seen in Spokane’s inner city neighborhoods.

It is important to understand how the city’s zoning code dictates what can be built. Before we label zoning regulations as a cause, one must first recognize that different neighborhoods in Spokane have different needs and desires. Spokane residents know that the South Hill and Indian Trail are very different from West Central, so why is there the same zoning code for all the neighborhoods?

In many instances the codes are promoting suburban type development for the entire city, even in urban neighborhoods. In the urban neighborhoods, it is difficult for developers to both build for-sale homes and adequately attain the density required. What they can easily build is rental apartments, which is exactly what we have seen, leading to an oversupply of rental units in the majority of Spokane’s urban neighborhoods. A principle of economics states, “when supply goes up, demand goes down.” When demand goes down so do the prices, making it very hard for landlords to adequately keep up their properties. The result is blighted and boarded up neighborhoods where owners can’t sell or fix up their homes.

To build for-sale homes with the appropriate density in an RTF or RHD zone (which are prescribed in many of Spokane’s urban neighborhoods) you need to be able to subdivide the land below the home. It is possible to build condos; but for condos, getting financing from banks is extremely difficult and takes a long time to secure. Since, at best, you can only divide to 25’ wide minimum in both zones, there is a fixed number of units you can build on a given block. To build an apartment complex you do not need to subdivide the land. This means that the number of potential units that can be built on a block as rental is greater than if they were for-sale homes. As developers compete for land, the developer that can potentially gain more profit from more units (the rental developer) will always outbid the developer that will potentially be putting in fewer units (the for-sale developer). The result is an endless cycle of blight and ever-decreasing housing values.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Answering the “Why”

The Phase 1 Report contained the background information for what has occurred in Spokane over the past years. We have the facts, now we must understand what yielded these results. The primary question that Phase 2 will answer is “why?”

There are reasons why the City of Spokane has developed a certain way. Similarly, there are specific reasons why West Central is in its current condition. We ask now, “what is the cause?” Some questions that we may analyze in greater depth include:

• Do impediments exist within the Comprehensive Plan itself? Do the zoning classifications inhibit positive development?

• Are there issues surrounding the financing of condos or fee simple homeownership?

• Has the nature of public spending factored into the current conditions? How has private spending affected Spokane? How much, what kind, and where has spending occurred?

• The Market: Are there certain aspects of West Central that make it not profitable for investors? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in West Central? What does West Central’s profile look like when you consider:

   • Vacant, rented, and owned lots
   • Parks, open space, and recreation
   • Streets and infrastructure
   • Crime and public services

These are just some reasons that might have generated the current circumstances. But what else could lead to the kind of development that has been documented over the past ten years? We have identified the problem; in Phase 2, we are now trying to understand the problem. Once we have this knowledge, we can begin to search for a solution.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Residential Development Progression

Above is a quick animation to show how residential development patterns progressed through the 10.5 years of data described in our Phase 1 Report.  Dwelling Units are mapped according to the year of permit issue. Please watch and leave some feedback!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Phase 1 Report

This evening, we’ll be presenting an update of our findings to the West Central Neighborhood Council; this “Phase 1” Report is available in printable format by clicking the link below:

Phase 1 Report

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Growth Management Act and How it Changed Planning in Spokane

Photo © Valentin Mosichev/

The matter of managing growth raises all sorts of conversation. This concluding piece will look at the historic and ongoing debate surrounding Growth Management, both within Spokane and beyond.

Part Three: The Ongoing Discussion

In 1993, a new alternative weekly newspaper called the Pacific Northwest Inlander asked the question: “Growth Management: Boon or Bust?” Some people insisted that Spokane needed as much growth as it could get. People feared that growth management would punish Spokane for mistakes made in Seattle. Other stories reported on the plight of longtime farmers who had become overrun with suburbanite neighbors.

People often feared that growth management equated to slow-growth or no-growth (this is sometimes referred to as growth control). It was felt by some that Spokane was actually suffering from a lack of growth. City Planner Charlie Dotson indicated to the Spokane Chronicle that growth management was not intended to stop or slow growth, but simply to give us tools to manage it.

• “City Planner sees Potential for Growth Problems,” Spokane Chronicle, Mar 28, 1990.
• “Some Spokane-lovers Don’t Love Growth,” Spokane Chronicle, January 4, 1990.

Citizen groups within Washington State continue to support and/or question the GMA:

a) FutureWise is a statewide public interest group in favor of growth management:

“The Growth Management Act requires communities to periodically conduct these major updates. The plans serve as important roadmaps in determining the long-term health of communities, rural areas and natural lands. We’re also involved with local fights to prevent growth management laws from being weakened.”

b) The Citizen’s Alliance for Property Rights has adopted its Policy 9 to address their concerns about the intention of the GMA:

“In an incredibly cynical move, local politicians and governmental agencies are not only refusing to accept their role in the current situation, but have been deliberately shifting the cost of environmental mitigation to a small number of rural property owners. Those property owners are effectively being punished with restrictions and fines for preserving their land, topsoil and habitat. At the same time, urban development and governments continue to be rewarded for so completely destroying the environmental value of their land.”

On a nation-wide level, growth management has been questioned and considered. Housing affordability is just one issue where the impact of growth management has been questioned or lauded.

a) Big Burdens from Growth Management is a study by Randal O’Toole regarding housing affordability. His findings indicate that average housing costs in states with GMAs significantly outweigh average income. He indicates that growth management leads to a limited housing supply. Towards fixing the housing affordability problem, he advises that all growth management acts should be immediately repealed. O’Toole contends that sprawl is not a real problem, noting that only 3% of available land in America has been developed, and that most people do not enjoy living in areas of high density. He also considers that rural property owners have lost the right to develop their property without compensation.

b) The Link Between Growth Management and Housing Affordability: the Academic Evidence is a study prepared for the Brookings Institute on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. This study identifies that market demand is the primary factor behind housing prices, rather than land constraints. It is noted that both traditional methods and newer growth management programs can increase the cost of housing:

i) Traditional zoning and growth control limits where affordable housing can be located, often driving the cost of housing through minimum size requirements. Access to transportation and infrastructure may also be limited.

ii) If Growth Management programs are crafted to include a mix of housing types, and access to infrastructure and transportation, housing costs may increase; however, this may be offset by lower transportation and energy costs.

The notion of how growth should happen will change from person to person. As we learn from this small sample of the many points of view, we see that some see growth management as an environmentally responsible strategy. Others disagree that cities can be sustainable. Some will disregard the significance of environmental and lifestyle costs that are historically associated with uncoordinated development, and still more will remain apathetic to any sort of regulated planning. It is important to remember that planning policy affects everyone in some way, from the basis of the individual to the entire population – and that the long-term effects of growth management strategies may not be known for years.

For a printable version of this paper, click here.

This post is the last of a three part series about the Growth Management Act. For a printable version of the entire paper series, click here.

Posted in whitepaper | Leave a comment

The Growth Management Act and How it Changed Planning in Spokane

Spokane’s Urban Growth Area with its Centers and Corridors.

Last time we looked at Washington State’s Growth Management Act. This time we’ll be looking at some of the planning tools used to organize growth within Spokane.

Part Two: How does it work?

The GMA tailors planning requirements based on populations, growth rates and projected growth. The main tool used to make growth management work is the implementation of Comprehensive Plans.

Comprehensive Planning

The GMA mandates that counties and cities of a certain size and/or growth rate must create local Comprehensive Plans. Spokane County experienced a high rate of growth between 1989 and 1993, and the jurisdictions within the County were then required to prepare Comprehensive Plans. This includes the designation of Urban Growth Areas, and the creation of plans that include the following critical elements:

1. Land Use
2. Housing
3. Capital Facilities Plan
4. Utilities
5. Rural
6. Transportation
7. Economic Development
8. Park and Recreation
9. Amendment

The GMA also mandated citizen participation in the creation of Comprehensive Plans; in Spokane, this led to the formation of the Spokane Horizons Group. During this community participation process, Spokane elected to add several additional elements such as Leadership, Governance and Citizenship, Social Health, and Neighborhoods to its Comprehensive Plan. These elements became sections in the document.

Urban Growth Area

Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) are located within Growth Management Boundaries. Outside of these boundaries, development may only happen if it is not urban in nature; typically, this is rural and resource land.

Some of the factors involved in determining the boundary are population projections, land capacity analysis, and the ability to provide public facilities and services to that area. Spokane’s initial Growth Management Boundary was drawn in the 1990s, based on these factors. Spokane’s Urban Growth Area includes all land within the city limits and also some land outside of Spokane’s City Limits; these areas are known as Joint Planning Areas (JPAs). The boundary is reviewed at least once every five years, taken into account growth that will occur over the following 20 years.

In the City of Spokane, the boundary must be reviewed at least once every five years. Spokane County is responsible for reviewing all of its Urban Growth Boundaries on a ten-year basis as follows:

1. 20-year forecast population for Spokane County is prepared, based on information from the State Office of Financial Management
2. Spokane County allocates the forecasted population in the following order:
   a For metro cities (City of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights and Millwood)
   b. For existing unincorporated UGA (JPA’s)
   c. For urban reserves (which are outside the UGA but are intended to become a part of the UGA in future)
   d. For rural areas
3. Land capacity of UGA is determined, based on land use allocations and current use
4. An Environmental review is undertaken, based on the state’s Environmental Policy Act
5. Revision to Comprehensive Plan is made if needed, or population allocation is modified

GMA-Related Dispute Resolution

In order to resolve disputes related to the GMA, three Growth Management Hearing Boards (GMHB’s) were created. These boards are specific to Western Washington, Eastern Washington and the Central Puget Sound, in order to reflect regional diversities.

Amendment Process

The GMA mandates an amendment process for Comprehensive Plans. In Spokane, the Comprehensive Plan can only be amended once a year, maximum. This is intended to prevent uncoordinated changes to the Plan. Changes are based on monitored data as well as citizen comment. The process works as follows:

1. Public notice of amendment cycle
2. Workshops of public hearings scheduled by City Plan Commission
3. Plan Commission makes recommendations as resolutions
4. City council approval/denial
5. Appeals of City Council decisions can be made through the Superior Court

Land use allocations within the Spokane UGA

The Comprehensive Plan tells us that land use is driven by the Vision and Values generated during Spokane Horizons planning process. Towards achieving this, Spokane identifies several planning tools to organize growth:

• Neighborhoods are considered to be a basic planning unit in Spokane. Spokane Horizons identified values associated with neighborhoods, including the enhancement and preservation of inner-city and older neighborhoods.

• Centers and Corridors is a land use strategy that aims to focus growth efficiently. Greater densities as well as mixed-use buildings are allowed in specified areas, as designated on the City’s Land Use Plan.

“The centers and corridors designated on the land use plan map are the areas of the city where incentives and other tools should be used to encourage infill development, redevelopment and new development.”

– Spokane Comprehensive Plan, LU 3.1 p. 16

Targeting growth through the designated centers and corridors is based on several factors, including but not limited to availability of infrastructure, existing and proposed conditions, accessibility of transit and level of capacity for public amenities. Some of Spokane’s Centers and Corridors include the South Perry Neighborhood Center, and the North Monroe Business Corridor.

Land Use designations also reflect existing uses; when the current (2001) Comprehensive Plan was written, some existing land uses were reevaluated to recognize the actual intensity of development. The reasoning behind this was to avoid creating large areas of nonconformance.

The next and final part in this series will look at the historic and ongoing debate surrounding Growth Management, both within Spokane and beyond.

For a printable version of this paper, click here.

Posted in whitepaper | Leave a comment

The Growth Management Act and How it Changed Planning in Spokane

Satellite image of urban sprawl developed over greenfields at Five Mile.

This series is an introduction to the Growth Management Act and the impact it has had on the process of planning in Spokane.

Part One: What is the Growth Management Act?

In 1990, Washington State became the eighth state to create a law related to the management of growth. The Growth Management Act (GMA) was created in reaction to a trend of explosive development:

“The legislature finds that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public’s interest in the conservation and the wise use of our lands, pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state. It is in the public interest that citizens, communities, local governments, and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.”

-“Legislative Findings” Washington State Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.010

The legislation of the GMA is a milestone in Washington State’s planning history. The Act was legislated in 1990 and for the first time, all cities and counties would be required by the State to generate basic planning devices in a coordinated effort toward achieving the following goals:

1. Urban Growth
2. Reduce Sprawl
3. Transportation (multimodal)
4. Housing (affordability, preservation and accessibility)
5. Economic Development
6. Property Rights – landowners are to be protected from arbitrary or discriminatory action; land is not to be taken for public use without just compensation.
7. Permits are to be processed in a timely and fair manner, allowing for predictability and ease of use.
8. Natural Resource Industries
9. Open Space and Recreation
10. Environment
11. Citizen Participation and Coordination
12. Public facilities and services – ensuring that levels of service (police, schools, etc.) do not fall below established standards
13. Historic Preservation
14. Shoreline Management (new in 2010)

These goals, taken together, are to be used in the coordinated creation of Comprehensive Plans and development regulations.

Next time we’ll be looking at some of the planning tools that organize development within Spokane.

For a printable version of this paper, click here.

Posted in whitepaper | Leave a comment

July 26 Meeting Reschedule

Hey everyone: Due to last minute scheduling conflicts, we’ll be holding our regular open meeting at 10:30 AM rather than noon tomorrow, July 26.

Apologies for the short notice.  Please feel free to get in contact with us by commenting on a post, or stopping by.

Regular noon meetings will resume next week, August 2.  Thanks!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Spokane’s Comprehensive Plan Being Implemented by Development Regulations?

A sample of development regulations: Spokane’s current zoning map zoomed on the West Central Neighborhood. Created by City of Spokane Planning Services.

The city of Spokane has adopted a comprehensive plan that lays out how the city wants to grow and change over the next generation. Currently the City is in the process of implementing the plan using various development regulations and tools including but not limited to capital facilities programs, zoning ordinances, land use plans, design reviews, community development programs, public health and safety improvements and environmental reviews. After nine years of implementing the Comprehensive Plan, it should be asked if the implementation tools used by the City are incomplete, if they need adjustments, or if the city needs new tools?

To answer these questions, the different development regulation tools need to be assessed according to some criteria. Criteria that need to be met are established by visions, values and objectives found in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. One basic criterion is to create urban infill development in Spokane’s core neighborhoods while at the same time reducing development pressure on rural lands that are on the outskirts of the City. If development regulations are meeting these criteria, it is likely that Spokane is on the right track to implementing the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

Criteria for successful implementation of the Comprehensive Plan
Do development regulations show evidence of promoting:

1. Urban development within designated centers and corridors and within the urban core of Spokane while reducing development on the city’s periphery?
2. An increase in overall property valuation?
3. A variety of
transportation choices?
4. Affordable housing of all types to be available to all residents in an environment that is safe, clean and healthy?
5. Rehabilitation of older neighborhoods?
6. Public Facilities to be provided concurrently with a growing population to meet safety, utility, transportation, educational and cultural needs of residents?
7. A diversified economic base that provides livable wage jobs, a healthy environment and an economically vibrant downtown?
8. That historic and cultural fabric, neighborhoods, downtown area, parks and greens spaces, and tree line streets will be maintained and improved?
9. Clean air and water and healthy trees and parks?
10. Neighborhoods to be inclusive, diverse and livable with a variety of compatible services?
11. A nurturing community that provides a diversity of social, recreational, educational and cultural opportunities for all ages?

How will development regulations be assessed in order to establish whether they meet the above criteria? Various community indicators need to be evaluated in order to see if the goals of the Comprehensive Plan are being implemented. Criteria need to be evaluated using a consistent and quantifiable process. Each criterion needs to have a quantified point where it can be said that development regulation tools are or are not currently satisfactory. For example, there needs to be satisfactory evidence that Spokane’s older neighborhoods have new and quality development occurring in them instead of the same development occurring only on the city’s periphery.

An increase in property valuation could be assessed by looking at a related concept, home ownership. An increase in property valuation is closely linked to how much people personally value their property. Because home owners are deeply invested in their property and will make efforts to increase their property value, home ownership rates and overall property valuation in the City are highly correlated. Evaluation of any criteria should begin at the city or county level and work its way down to assessing effects on West Central and other neighborhoods.

The evaluation process will begin with the first two criteria (containing urban growth and increasing property valuation) because these are of particular importance for many Spokane residents as well as Washington State’s enacted Growth Management Act. These two criteria are also highly influenced by Spokane’s development regulation tools, while some criteria may be less easily affected by regulation tools. Evaluation will tell if adjustment or new implementation tools are needed.

For a printable version of this post click here.

Posted in whitepaper | Leave a comment

We’re on Facebook!

You can now keep up to date on our progress through Facebook.  Click the “Like” button to connect with us!

9:9 West Central

You’ll be notified of new blog updates, and will be able to make comments.

Pass it on!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment