The Kennewick City Council has asked city planners to bring back recommendations for hillside development rules for future approval, despite the planning commission rejecting the same proposal weeks ago.
Most council members said during Tuesday’s workshop meeting they were confused by the commission’s refusal to accept any of the staff recommendations, purportedly because of opposition from developers, while still advancing one change that would make it more difficult to develop much of the remaining land in the city, which is on hillsides.
“Were they not thinking when they brought that forward?” Councilman Bob Parks asked planning staff. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
City staff recommended to the planning commission in March changes related to retaining walls and gave a series of options for other topics such as man-made slopes and building heights.
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Planning officials said most developers are already following the recommendations but that there is nothing in city code to prevent large deviations from those suggestions.
“‘Should’ is not a standard. It’s not something we can enforce,” said Planning Director Greg McCormick.
But most of the planning commissioners rejected staff’s findings, saying standards aren’t needed as builders only want to build aesthetically-pleasing structures that sell. Developers had also said the staff recommendations would increase their costs, which could hamper the city’s growth.
Yet the commission recommended the council adopt some guidelines from the past Southridge plan. That would have prevented building on hillsides with a 25 percent or higher grade, a much stricter standard than the city’s current limit at 40 percent grade or higher.
Parks, along with councilmen Paul Parish, Don Britain and Bob Olson, said the planning commission had its opportunity. They suggested going with what city staff recommended, converting current recommendations for hillside development into full standards.
“If we’ve been doing it all along, let’s make it enforceable,” Parish said. “Not everyone’s a good guy.”
Mayor Steve Young instructed McCormick and his staff to bring back in June their recommendations as they would look in city code to be considered again by the council. He also suggested city staff circle back with the commission.
“This isn’t really criticism of them but it seems there was conflict between staff and the commission,” he said.