For months and months, the Spokane Valley neighbors near the St. John Vianney Church in Spokane Valley found themselves locked in a dispute with the church they grew up next to.
The church and Catholic Charities wanted to build a 40-unit affordable-housing complex for the elderly on a property nearby. The neighborhood – most of them surprised by this development – began to organize, as neighbors will. Letters went out. Yard signs went up. Protests to the city were issued.
To build the complex, however, Catholic Charities needed a zone change. To do that, it had to go through the city council. It didn’t.
It took five months, neighbor Shelley Stevens says, but the proposal was finally defeated at last night’s lengthy council meeting. The council voted 5 to 1 against moving the proposal to a second reading, effectively defeating it.
(Councilman Arne Woodard, who already voted on the issue as part of the planning commission, abstained.)
Councilman Dean Grafos argued the complex would stick out painfully among the neighborhood.
“Putting a building the size of a football field into this neighborhood is just not appropriate,” Grafos said. “Following the 4-2 vote of the planning commission, and keeping with my lifelong belief that property rights are an essential component of our democratic weigh of life, I personally cannot support this zone change.”
Gothmann, often a minority vote on the “Positive Change”-dominated council, also sided with Grafos.
“Even to the casual observer, one has to say it does not have the quality and scale the neighborhood has,” Gothmann said at the meeting. “You’d have to be blind not to see that.” He noted that there are far too few parking spaces, meaning seniors would have to walk. And they don’t have sidewalks to walk there.”
Councilman Gary Schimmels was the lone holdout, arguing that changing as a city sometimes means allowing new developments.
“The NIMBYs should go away. How did you get where you live today? That’s the bottom line,” Schimmels said.
Catholic Charities has built large senior housing developments in neighborhoods before, said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities. And they’ve worked out well. “This is a project that will protect and promote the common good,” McCann says. “Our communities do not become blights. They’re jewels in their neighborhood.”
Today, back at her Walnut St. neighborhood, Stevens is happy, her attitude contrasting dramatically with her frustration in March.
“We’re having a barbecue at Balfour Park on August 21. We had that planned rather we won or lost,” Stevens says. And there’s been a side-effect to the battle, she says. Today, she knows her neighbors better than ever.