Building Opportunity and Choices for All
July 18, 2022: Spokane City Council unanimously approved the Building Opportunity and Choices for All interim zoning ordinance. Watch the public hearing or go through the staff presentation.
On June 23, 2022, in response to the housing supply emergency, Mayor Nadine Woodward, Council President Breean Beggs, Council Member Michael Cathcart, and Council Member Betsy Wilkerson held a press conference to propose interim zoning regulations to modify permitted housing types in the City's residential zones to accelerate construction of more housing. Building on the past two years of engagement and outreach around the need for housing, through the adopted Housing Action Plan and on-going Shaping Spokane Housing code changes, the City is utilizing the tool of an interim zoning ordinance to enact swift changes to address the urgent need for housing. On July 18, 2022, City Council held a public hearing and forwarded this item to the Mayor for signature. This is a pilot program expected to go into effect in August 2022 ending July 18, 2023, unless the City Council takes action to extend the program.
The Building Opportunity and Choices for All pilot program is a one-year interim zoning program that modifies residential zoning to accelerate construction of more housing in neighborhoods, with more variety in the types of housing being provided. During the pilot program, Planning Services staff will be working with stakeholders and the broader community to create permanent code changes that make housing choice more of a reality for Spokane's residents. The pilot program would allow more housing options to be approved and built citywide within the next 12-18 months.
One-Year Pilot Timeline
Interim Regulations Under the Pilot
The approved interim regulations created for the pilot program will be in effect for a one-year period. Development applications during this timeframe can choose to be approved under the pilot program or under the City’s existing code requirements. Standards not listed in Chapter 17C.400 SMC will remain as currently stated in other sections of the Unified Development Code.
- Section 17C.400.010 Pilot Low-Intensity Residential Development Standards
- Section 17C.400.020 Pilot Density
- Section 17C.400.030 Pilot Low-Intensity Residential Design Standards
- Section 17C.400.040 Pilot Center and Corridors Development Standards
The interim zoning allows the following changes:
- Duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes citywide.
- Townhomes ("attached houses") allow on all residential lots with no cap on number of townhomes, except in the Residential Agriculture (RA) zone.
- Modified lot development standards to control building bulk and placement for detached single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, triplexes, and fourplexes. This helps remove barriers to construction for missing middle housing types.
- Apply uniform design standards based on existing multifamily standards, with modifications appropriate to low-scale residential projects.
- Unit density calculations for all projects approved under the pilot are permitted to round up (e.g. if the math works out to 14.2 units on a site, you can build 15 units).
The interim changes also include the following incentives for mixed-use residential construction in the Center and Corridor Zones:
- Modified building standards for developments that are made up of at least 50% residential units to make construction more feasible.
- Reduce vehicle parking requirements for the residential floor areas.
- Floor area ratio increases and building height increases.
- Sign up to receive email announcements about the pilot program.
- Email questions and comments, or request community outreach events, by emailing email@example.com
- Come back to this page for updates during the year-long pilot program.
- Increased flexibility for desired housing types
- Development regulations are important to ensure the quality of life and safety standards that lead to a thriving community. However, sometimes regulations can have unintended consequences. For instance, the current regulation for townhomes discourages their construction due to lot size requirements and unit limitations. Reducing the lot width and removing the unit cap can encourage the development of this housing type that is popular for young professionals and retirees alike and give first-time home buyers an opportunity to establish roots and connect with the community.
- Walkable infill
- Development infill allows residents to live near services, while also taking advantage of existing infrastructure like water, sewer and solid waste services. This creates walkable neighborhoods and responsible use of resources. Research also indicates that infill development is largely done by smaller companies, supporting small businesses along the way.
- Continued community feedback
- Feedback heard from the community during development of the Housing Action Plan [link] and Shaping Spokane Housing [link] code amendments have generally been positive towards promoting townhomes and allowing duplexes and fourplexes to increase Spokane’s housing supply and housing variety. The Building Opportunity and Choices for All pilot program is turning community feedback into immediate action.
- Transit Oriented Development
- Residential opportunities near high-capacity STA transit routes can provide affordable and convenient housing options. Infill development helps make existing neighborhoods into ones where residents of all ages can walk, bike, or take transit to enjoy public spaces like parks or libraries, access daily services, or commute to work conveniently and reliably.
- The interim zoning ordinance will last for one year from Council’s approval, during which time City staff will track the pilot program’s progress and feedback. At the end of the one year, City Council will have the opportunity to extend the pilot another six months if it is needed to complete the necessary work associated with making permanent code changes. Developers or property owners who apply for a permit under the pilot program may be vested for up to one year from the pilot program’s end to complete reviews and permitting.
- The pilot program is designed to allow for low-scale development that compliments the residential nature of our neighborhoods. If development occurs in your neighborhood, you may see new buildings that provide more housing choices. There is a chance you may not even know a building has multiple units until you meet your new neighbors!
- New housing constructed under the Building Opportunity and Choices for All pilot will be required to maintain current off-street parking requirements.
- The pilot program includes design standards that will ensure these low-scale residential housing types feature high quality architectural elements that add curb appeal and elevate newly constructed units.
- The City has not established expectations for exact numbers of units built through the pilot program at this time. The success of the program will be determined by the ability to identify any additional barriers to housing development and ensuring appropriate integration of housing choices into our neighborhoods. However, the timing of the pilot program takes advantage of part of the 2022 and the full 2023 construction seasons. It is expected that development will be underway before the year-long program ends.
- Due to the costs associated with demolition and construction, it is unlikely we will see homes in good condition being demolished for multi-family development. In addition to the cost of buying the property, demolishing a house can cost between $15,000 and $40,000 depending on the property, and that is before accounting for the cost of designing and physically constructing the new building. New housing provided through the pilot program is expected to occur largely on vacant lots, underutilized lots that have additional land, and dilapidated properties.
- Housing proposed under the interim zoning pilot must still meet development regulations, including building codes, stormwater review, setbacks and height limits, and design standards. In fact, the interim zoning includes design standards specifically included for the scale of housing types within the pilot, to support the residential patterns that create walkable and enjoyable neighborhoods.
- If you are interested in developing your property under the Building Opportunity and Choices for All pilot program, please contact the Development Services Center to schedule a Pre-Development Conference. This is an optional meeting between a project applicant and City departments and other governmental agencies involved in the plan review process. These meetings help applicants determine project feasibility and provide an overview of requirements to prepare for the application submittal process.
- The City will be tracking development proposed under the pilot program and engaging the public throughout the one-year process. During periodic check points, if are identified areas of the interim zoning ordinance that require adjustment, City Council will have the opportunity to amend the ordinance to better reflect the intended outcomes of the pilot.
- After the pilot program ends, the City intends to enact permanent code changes to address our housing needs. The permanent code changes will be based off feedback from the community and lessons learned from the pilot.
- During the year-long pilot program, the city will actively engage the community to create permanent housing code changes. The public can expect periodic updates, workshops, requests for feedback, and public hearings.
Washington's Growth Management Act (GMA) (Chapter 36.70A RCW) calls for promoting a variety of residential housing types and densities, preserving existing housing stock, and encouraging housing that is affordable to all income levels. To implement these policies, cities and counties planning under the GMA must include a housing element in their comprehensive plans, or a community's roadmap for growth. And recent changes to State law (House Bill 1923) aim to increase residential capacity in cities across the state.
The City of Spokane Comprehensive Plan reflects our community's values to support economic opportunity for all citizens with affordable housing and attractive neighborhoods. The document provides a vision of housing that is safe, clean, healthy, and attainable for all residents.
Responding to the new legislation, in July 2021, the City adopted its Housing Action Plan (HAP) to focus on implementation of housing policies and goals. The HAP identifies actions that the city can pursue to encourage more housing options and create more homes for more people. The Housing Action Plan built upon past initiatives and community discussions around infill development, housing quality, and affordable housing funding. The HAP yielded a coordinated set of strategies, based on community priorities, that supports more people being able to find a home that meets their needs with access to opportunities, services, and amenities.
Historically, Spokane has offered a mix of housing options - from mansion apartments in the historic Browne's Addition, post-War era neighborhoods like Chief Garry Park, and suburban developments like Indian Trail. However, as the city has grown the diversity and supply of housing has not been able to meet the needs of all income levels. How do we know? As part of the Spokane Housing Action Plan (HAP), the City completed a Housing Needs Assessment (PDF 8.1 MB) to determine the types of housing residents need more of, as well as the displacement risk of various Census tracts throughout the city.
During the process for the Housing Action Plan, City Council advocated for more housing types in residential zones to address the housing supply issue, which was ultimately included in Council’s Implementation Plan as Strategy II.1. Due to the nature of the City’s residential land use categories and zoning requirements, increasing the housing supply has made slow progress and been compounded by a low supply of both homes for sale and units for rents, while Washington state has seen a demographic shift as people move to areas seeking lower costs or because of remote work. The GMA (RCW 36.70A.390) outlines the availability of an interim zoning ordinance to enact quick action in response to an immediate and urgent need. In response to the rapid increase in rents and home prices, the City proposed an interim zoning ordinance to take swift action to permit and encourage the construction of more housing types in residential zones.