With a brief agenda before them, members of the Spokane Valley City Council spent some time Tuesday night discussing ways to improve the city’s building code and to clarify definitions pertaining to group housing.
John Hohman, community development director, said he has been working with staff in order to bring the city’s building code more in line with the state code – as required by Washington law – and lengthening the time building applications and permits are valid.
“We’re somewhat out of date,” Hohman said, adding that it had been several years that the city had revised its Title 24 building code. “We want this as something that would be a benefit to our applicants.”
Revisions to the code also include eliminating the need to add municipal amendments ever time the state adopts new codes every three years, correcting incorrect code language and removing free references that conflict with the city’s master fee schedule.
While the municipal jargon did get heavy at times, Council Member Arne Woodard broke it all down into language that was more easily understood: an applicant looking to build something new will have more time after applying for a permit to get the work started.
“Provided that they do something, they have up to eight years to complete a project,” Woodard said.
Hohman said the idea was to have more relaxed standards that would be beneficial to his staff and building applicants. Spokane County is looking to adopt the same strategy when it revises its code, he said.
“Good, that’s what we want to do,” said Council Member Dean Grafos.
“Can we keep it a secret?” joked Mayor Tom Towey. “I think this is going to be a win-win for everybody.”
The revisions will come before council to approve at a future meeting.
The city also has some sticky definitions that need to be ironed out regarding group-housing regulations, said Scott Kuhta, city planning manager. The council has requested more information regarding what types of housing – whether they be assisted living, convalescent, an essential public facility (such as a halfway house) or an adult-family home for the disabled – that can be located in particular zone classifications.
Currently, a “family” is described in the city’s code as “an individual or two or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption or a grouped of not more than five persons, excluding dependents, who are not related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together in a single housekeeping unit.
That definition raised some questions among council members.
“Five adults not related is a family?” asked Council Member Brenda Grassel.
“You’ve identified the problem,” Kuhta said, adding that he and his staff would be working on a more consistent definition for adoption by the city.
“So the goal is to confuse us tonight,” joked Council Member Chuck Hafner.
There are some things the city cannot control by zoning through the essential public facility siting process. Correctional facilities – especially those who treat sex offenders -- for example, are rarely popular with residents, but they must be located somewhere.
“Don’t get scared, we haven’t heard of any coming,” Kuhta said.
Woodard said he is concerned there are not more clear definitions where senior housing – not fully assisted-living housing but more structured than a traditional apartment complex – can be located.
“I think there is a need there that we aren’t addressing as a city,” he said.
Grafos said that there is potential for retirement housing along the Sprague Avenue corridor and there should be more uses that are allowed along the arterial.
“This might be a way to reinvent some of those (vacant) buildings on Sprague,” he said.
The issue will be discussed further at an upcoming council meeting.