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War Over Peace 

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hether developer Mick McDowell is allowed to build a 196-foot high-rise above Spokane's Peaceful Valley neighborhood could come down to a 2006 Washington Supreme Court decision. That is, whether the city of Spokane feels like that decision swings far enough in their favor to protect them in court.





McDowell's lawyer, Stanley Schwartz argued in front of the Spokane City Council on Monday night that his client was left in the dark when the city changed zoning rules affecting his property in 2003. The amendment to the city's comprehensive plan dictated that any building erected 100 feet north of Riverside had to be 35 feet tall or less. That swatch includes a piece of land McDowell has owned since the late 1970s, a plot just east of the Maple Street Bridge that droops from Riverside down into Peaceful Valley. Land on which McDowell had announced plans to build a condo much taller than 35 feet.





McDowell says he wasn't personally notified of the change. That makes the change illegal, he claims. It also, he adds, renders moot a decision made last year by the city's hearing examiner, who shot down the project because, he said, it flew against the new rules and didn't offer enough in return. But the rules, McDowell counters, were illegally made in the first place.





"That's a ground for overturning the land use decision," Schwartz told the council. "That's a civil rights violation."





That's why McDowell filed a suit against the city last December. And why the city has offered to settle out of court. "That notice that was issued was of a general nature, an area-wide notice rather than a property-owner specific [one]," says city attorney James Craven. "That is a legal deficiency in our judgment. At least potentially." Assistant City Attorney James Richman and Acting City Planning Director Leroy Eadie both encouraged the city to settle Monday night.





The settlement would end the suit and allow McDowell to build his condo, whether or not it fits the new zoning changes.





But Peaceful Valley residents believe there was plenty of notification. One resident, Patty Norton, brought to the podium on Monday night documents showing that the city conducted 12 workshops, five presentations, three study sessions and a public open house to get the word out about the zoning change -- 29 attempts in total, she said.





She brought up the 2006 state Supreme Court case, in which the high court ruled that Seattle's Sound Transit gave enough notification to a landowner whose land it sought to condemn when it simply posted the notice on its own Web site.





Schwartz said he'd never heard of the 29 notifications but that nonetheless, condemnation is a different process, so the case doesn't apply here. There's a "band of case law," he argued, insisting that when making zone changes to a targeted area, you must notify landowners personally.


Case closed, Schwartz believes.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his all sounds rather arcane -- quibbling over case law and proper notification. But Monday's meeting proved that -- for people on both sides of the issue -- it's not just business; it's personal.





Peaceful Valley residents -- several of whom have been fighting McDowell's project for a year -- came out in droves and, one by one, marched to the podium to implore the city council to fight for their neighborhood, to consider what the proposed condo would do to traffic on Cedar Street, the shadow it would cast on their homes and on Glover Park, the damage that hillside construction could do to their basalt foundations.





One resident described McDowell's project as a monstrosity. Twenty-something Mariah McKay said "the finger" would actively scare off the personality and character that draw young creative-types to the neighborhood. "What you're doing tonight is a slap in the face," resident and former state legislator George Orr told the council.





In a meeting two weeks ago, several of the residents who have been fighting the project most doggedly recited a catalog of complaints about the project, from the afore-mentioned concerns over shadows, traffic and construction to worries about the fate of the trees on the slope, to complaints that McDowell's units will only draw un-neighborly rich retirees and that their garbage will stink up the valley, to wishes that McDowell would have built in a more green-friendly way. And they suspect the city is simply rolling over and playing dumb for a deep-pocketed developer.





"I've got paranoia running through my veins," said Lori Aluna, one of the neighborhood's chief activists.





McDowell, for his part, points to a city report stating that the project is unlikely to have a serious traffic impact, to the fact that garbage will stay inside his building and be wheeled out only just before weekly pick-up, to a study showing that while his building would shade nearby Glover Field, it would only do so for three weeks at the end of December.





But it's clear that the settlement is also personal for McDowell, who's earned a reputation for speaking his mind -- loudly -- and who told us beforehand he wouldn't even attend Monday's meeting for fear that he might react badly to the "emotionality" of the Peaceful Valley residents (he did show, sitting in the back row throughout).





McDowell feels slighted by the city's 2003 zoning change and resents having to jump through hoops for something he feels he's already entitled to. But he's also frustrated that his building design, which he thinks nicely integrates the Riverside and Peaceful Valley neighborhoods, has drawn such opposition. He points to the fact that he could legally build a 150-foot tower from Riverside, making it hang even higher over Peaceful Valley. He could also build something like Don Barbieri's Upper Falls condo building -- a short but wide structure that could wall off Peaceful Valley entirely. "I won't do it," he says.


Then he shows off his original concept for the project, a squat building with long, spindly legs driven down into the valley. "That would've given them the Full Monty," he says, not just "the finger." But his revised project "reaches down and blends the districts. It's like reaching a hand down and saying 'Come, join us.'"





Another point of pride? The settlement. "I feel real good that we were able to craft a deal that doesn't involve the city cutting a check," he says. Instead of repayment for damages, the settlement would allow him to build his Riverside project and enjoin the city to lease to him at market value for 99 years a piece of land near Riverside and Division, a location he's long wanted to use for another large commercial building across from his AmericanWest bank building. Then, he says, the city would be making money -- via taxes, the lease -- on a piece of property that's currently earning them nothing (it's a parking lot for a city fire station).





It's clearly gotten personal for McDowell, too. Asked why he doesn't throw the neighborhood a bone by putting a coffee shop or a farmer's market on the Peaceful Valley side of his building, he replies, "I would. If they were nice to me." Asked what McDowell could do to make the tower more palatable to them, Peaceful Valley residents say "nothing."





"We do not want a tower on Riverside," says Patty Norton. "The impact is too great for our little neighborhood to withstand."





The city council has its work cut out for them. "You've given us a lot to think about," Council President Joe Shogan told the audience before gaveling the session to a close at 10:15 on Monday night. They're expected to come to a decision next Monday. n

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