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Spokane city planners back controversial road through South Hill housing project; developer plans to fight

December 6, 2018

The developer behind a pedestrian-friendly housing and retail cluster on the South Hill will push back on a recommendation by city planners to build a road connecting two busy thoroughfares through the property.

“If I didn’t believe what we were putting in was the best thing for the community, I wouldn’t be doing it,” said Jim Frank, founder of Greenstone Homes, the firm heading up the 24-acre development of housing and office space that drew neighborhood ire earlier this year over concerns about increased traffic.

Greenstone responded by announcing they wouldn’t seek to extend Crestline Street south from 32nd Avenue to meet Southeast Boulevard. At least one neighborhood resident said doing so would create a “phantom highway” for motorists moving about on the bustling South Hill. But the city’s planning department, in advance of a presentation before the Spokane County Hearing Examiner next week, issued a report finding the road extension was necessary to avoid gridlock.

“While there is network capacity on the arterial system surrounding this development, there is no direct access from the main residential portion of this development to the arterial network,” read the report, issued by the city’s planning department on Monday. “Therefore, the Crestline to Southeast Blvd. connection is vital to providing this access.”

That recommendation conflicts with the decision of the city’s volunteer Design Review Board, which approved an application for the development that didn’t include Crestline extending south of 32nd Avenue and instead called for a community amenity or art installation at that intersection. It also isn’t what a majority of the neighborhood residents want, said Marilyn Lloyd, vice chair of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council.

“It would totally ruin the concept of the Garden District, in my opinion,” Lloyd said, using Greenstone’s name for the development project.

Also responding to neighborhood unease about the proposed road extension, City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear initiated plans last year for the city to review its decision to designate Crestline an arterial, part of updates to city plans made in 2017. Southeast Boulevard is also designated an arterial, the most heavily trafficked of the city’s street classifications, which drove the city planning department’s decision to require the road cut through the development.

“I don’t have an opinion one way or another, but I do want the neighborhood to be able to voice their concerns and have a process, and I don’t feel that process has taken place yet,” Kinnear said Wednesday. The councilwoman has asked that the arterial designation be reviewed as part of the city’s comprehensive plan process, which won’t take place until next year.

Kinnear said she was unaware of the city staff report on the Greenstone development, which would bring an estimated 236 residential units, including apartments and cottage homes, as well as office and retail spaces to a vacant piece of property long planned for development. She said it was unsurprising the city recommended the road cut through the development, given their decision to designate the road an arterial last year in a decision she said could have included more community involvement.

“The comp plan amendment I put forward was saying that we want to have it go back to residential, for no other reason than give the neighborhood a chance to weigh in,” she said.

Frank said his company would make the argument to keep the road configured as is, with 32nd Avenue ending in a cul-de-sac and 31st Avenue veering north to meet 30th Avenue where a central park and plaza is planned for the development. The position puts the developer, Greenstone, in a unique scenario, Frank said.

“This is one of the rare times when we’ve been in the situation where we have strong support from the neighborhood, and we find ourselves and the neighborhood at odds with the city,” he said.

The hearing examiner is scheduled to hear the arguments from all parties at a public meeting 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Spokane County Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway Ave. Public testimony will be taken by the hearing examiner.

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