Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Parkside gets recommendation

Cheney commission votes 3-2 to approve student-housing complex to City Council

 


Cheney’s Planning Commission approved a recommendation to allow a zoning change for a proposed student-housing complex across from the city’s pool and Hagelin Park. The 3-2 vote at the commission’s June 12 meeting came after a second public hearing, and included changes and a spirited commission discussion.

The biggest change occurred with the commission’s make up. Commissioner Craig Huber announced his resignation earlier in the day due, reducing it to five members instead of the six present during the first go-round on the Parkside Commons development. Huber resigned not only because of a move outside the city, but because of a conflict of interest — his wife had given public testimony at an earlier Parkside hearing.

That commission deadlocked 3-3 on approving the rezone request, which would allow Parkside developer Eastmark Capital Group to expand the number of apartments from the currently allowed 76 on the approximately 3.6-acre site to up to 115 under the rezone.

In the March vote, Huber joined Commissioner Dan Turbeville and Chair Vince Barthels in voting against the rezone, while commissioners Vara Lyn Conrath, Kristine Williams and Rick Mount voted to approve. Even with new information from city staff, and more project data from the applicant, no commissioner changed their vote Monday night.

The second change came from the applicant, via the property owner. Greenstone Development principal Jim Frank proposed reducing the number of units at Parkside to 96, but increasing the number of off-street parking spaces per unit to no less than 2.4 — instead of the previous 2.09 — to essentially “over park” the development.

Frank said he learned a lot from a public meeting with Parkside neighbors as well as traveling around the neighborhood located one block north of Eastern Washington University’s campus. He acknowledged on-street parking issues, making several proposals for changes, and pointed to a 2013 parking study by EWU that also revealed issues, adding the city bore some responsibility these as well.

“That’s a part of the problem,” Frank said. “They’re (EWU) using your streets to park the university, and the city is complicit in this.”

In sending the rezone back to the commission, the City Council directed it and city staff to take more public testimony as well as seek additional findings of fact. All of the testimony Monday night was in opposition to the rezone, similar to previous comments about parking problems and safety concerns from increased traffic.

City planner Brett Lucas presented new information on housing in Cheney, with charts showing EWU enrollment now out pacing the availability of multifamily options and a reduced rental vacancy rate of around 4 percent — with 6–7 percent reflecting a “healthy” market. But it was a traffic study done by Eastmark’s consultant that generated the most comments.

The study, done in May, indicated Parkside would generate approximately 855 additional daily trips, much more than a study done at the University of Minnesota and originally presented by Eastmark in March as an indication of possible traffic impacts from the development. Despite the increase, engineer Bill White asserted the effect on area streets would not exceed Cheney’s defined levels of service, and even when challenged by commissioners regarding the accuracy of the data and how it was collected, defended those conclusions.

That study brought on a spirited discussion between commissioners Barthels and Mount during deliberations. Mount echoed concerns about parking and traffic, saying the commission had been “handed a bad deck of cards that’s been in place for years and years.”

But he added that it was the panel’s responsibility to base its decision on the data presented, not on extrapolations unsupported by that data.

“(If we) make a decision that’s arbitrary and capricious, that sets us up for a lawsuit,” Mount said. “I’m not willing to pay for an attorney to represent us in a lawsuit that I think we’re going to lose because we don’t have the data.”

Barthels said he viewed the issue differently, claiming the new traffic study backed up safety concerns in the neighborhood, vehicular and pedestrian.

“I think their numbers validated that,” he said, predicting an accident in the first year of the project’s operation.

“You’re guessing at that,” Mount replied. “That’s arbitrary and capricious. You have no data that supports that there will be more accidents.”

Barthels conceded Mount’s point, but stood by his beliefs.

The Parkside rezone proposal now moves to the City Council for final approval.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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