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Grand Scheme 

by Kevin Taylor & r & Residents in the neighborhoods around Spokane's Manito Park have quickly organized to fend off two proposed developments that would place an office building and a string of condos right across the street from the park. Upset residents say neighborhood councils have been working since 2001 to update and modify the city's comprehensive land use plan.

The comp plan -- as a vision statement -- has already been adopted, but the City Council is still voting on specific regulations. The vote for residential regulations is coming up in November, and the neighborhoods around Manito will become zoned for single-family houses instead of apartments.

Given the looming changes, Manito-area residents say two proposals announced in August for the intersection of 20th Avenue and Grand Boulevard are cynical attempts by developers to get commercial or high-density uses approved before the vote.

They plan to be at Monday's City Council meeting to ask if the coming changes can be put in place now.

"In a case where the whole city has been working on a new comp plan for four years, it seems that the work could be in vain if we can't even stick to that vision three months before it would take effect," writes Manito-area resident Lena Simon Lopez in an e-mail to The Inlander.

One of the proposed developments, put forth by Mark Wrenn, is a medical office building with 36 parking slots; the other, pitched by Rob Brewster, is up to 27 condos with a mix of on-site and underground parking.

Mary Carr, another resident opposed to the proposed projects, was more blunt than Simon Lopez: "They're trying to beat the clock," Carr says.

But fingers are, perhaps, being wagged too soon.

Leroy Eadie, the city's manager of current planning, says applications for development are indeed swamping City Hall.

"We are double where we were last year," Eadie says. But he and city traffic planner Mike Britton say the hot real estate market is a bigger factor by far than looming land-use changes.

It's also important to note, Eadie says, that neither proposal at 20th and Grand is "real," in the sense of having set plans. Neither Wrenn nor Brewster has yet to file an application, Eadie says.

The developers are trolling for tenants and investors to see if their projects will fly.

Brewster, for one, hopes his condos do get off the ground.

He agrees with critics that the project would "change the character of the neighborhood." But instead of being alarmed, Brewster celebrates.

"I think it's a fantastic idea ... to have more people living near the best asset the city has," says Brewster, who grew up on Spokane's South Hill near Manito.

He sees his condo proposal fitting city land-use goals of putting denser development along busy streets and not feeding subdivision sprawl.

At least one city council member who also lives on the south side of town, Brad Stark, leans towards Brewster's point of view.

"The comprehensive plan calls for greater density along designated corridors," says Stark -- that is, along arterials and closer to downtown.

Single-family homes along busy arterials often have less value than similar houses on quieter streets, and "folks don't want to invest money to remodel," Stark says. "There is potential for run-down houses along major arterials -- a problem we are trying to get away from."

It's a problem illustrated by south Grand itself, Brewster says. A number of the large, old houses lining the street are either in disrepair or have been split into apartments, he says.

"It's a falsehood and a fantasy to think people will renovate those homes," he says.

Resident Simon Lopez, in her e-mail, sang the praises of tree-lined Grand Boulevard near Manito and noted the connection between Spokane's gem and Central Park in New York City.

Brewster would note that Central Park is surrounded by many tall buildings.

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