Browne’s Addition poised to seek historic property protection after Spokane City Council passes new laws

Property owners concerned about the loss of Spokane’s historic structures may now unite by a simple majority to slow development or demolition of significant buildings.

The first part of town likely to do so will be one of Spokane’s oldest neighborhoods, historic Browne’s Addition, whose assembled residents applauded passage of laws Monday night aimed at giving residents a stronger voice to oppose the kind of work that has leveled several homes there in recent years.

“I believe in development in our neighborhood. We need it,” said Rick Biggerstaff, chariman of the neighborhood’s council. “But we need to all be sitting around the table.”

The legislative package proposed by City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear passed 6 to 1. The laws give neighborhood residents the ability to form districts that would prompt stricter review of developer’s plans to level or refurbish historic buildings. The package also includes new incentives for developers who choose to remodel, rather than demolish, structures and makes changes to what buildings can be razed downtown.

Paul Mann, chairman of the state’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and also a partner in the renovation of downtown’s historic Ridpath Hotel, said the ordinance struck a good balance between property rights and protecting the city’s past.

“It creates a process that is neither simple, nor easy, for neighborhoods, but I think it’s fair for both property owners and residents,” Mann told the council.

Multiple members of Spokane’s Preservation Advocates group and Browne’s Addition residents praised the legislation in testimony to the council. They wore yellow stickers urging the council to “Support Historic Preservation.”

City Councilman Mike Fagan cast the lone vote against the new law, taking up the argument offered by the Spokane Home Builders Association that the regulations unduly burdened private propety owners.

“With the passing of this particular ordinance, the city of Spokane is going places it has never gone before,” Fagan said.

The decisions by an appointed panel of city officials overseeing redevelopment plans can be appealed to the city’s Hearing Examiner. Builders may also make their case that it is too expensive to maintain an old building to a committee that must include a real estate agent, a commercial developer and a representative of the banking industry.

The law also prohibits developers from replacing downtown buildings with a surface parking lot to serve an adjacent historic property. That had been allowed under a previous version of the city’s demolition ordinances, which also permitted tearing down historic properties as long as they were replaced by another structure.

Kinnear asked the City Council to erase three changes to the ordinance suggested by the Plan Commission, a panel that reviews land use revisions before they make it to city lawmakers. One of those suggestions was to require notice to all property owners by registered mail, rather than first class postage, which Kinnear said would be too costly. The council also reduced the required number of posted signs notifying neighbors of a project from three to one.

Kinnear also asked that a simple majority of property owners be required to form a local historic district. The Plan Commission had recommended a 60 percent supermajority threshold, which was supported by the Home Builders Association, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and Fagan.

City Councilwoman Kate Burke joined Fagan in voting against the amendment, saying she didn’t agree with voting on changes to a law proposed the same night as a bill’s approval.

The simple majority requirement was supported by Mayor David Condon, Kinnear said. City Council President Ben Stuckart said requiring a supermajority was unrealistic.

“That’s going to create an impossible barrier,” Stuckart said.

Biggerstaff, who is now planning on taking a proposal to make Browne’s Addition a historic district, agreed. He said he hoped to have a vote from property owners – many of whom live outside of Spokane and rent their buildings to lcocal residents – by this fall.

“Fifty percent is still going to be quite the challenge,” he said.

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