Three Richland city staff members on Wednesday tried to convince a crowd of more than 100 residents angry about a proposed apartment complex that the city isn't their enemy.
Based on the crowd's body language and the disgruntled murmurs rippling through the council chambers, the city will have an uphill battle regaining these residents' trust.
Most of the people who came to city hall for the informal meeting about the proposed 176-unit apartment complex on the southwest corner of Westcliffe Boulevard and Brantingham Road are residents of the Applewood Estates Homeowners Association and Brantingham Greens Homeowners Association, the two groups that represent homeowners living in the area.
The two groups filed suit against the city, Wolff Enterprises and Badger Mountain Village Investments on Monday seeking to invalidate the city decision that allowed the developer to alter the plan from a senior housing complex on 30 acres to $1,100-per-month apartments on 15 acres.
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Homeowners have argued the plan change increases the density, and will add traffic to the neighborhood, drive down their property values, overburden local schools and potentially attract crime if apartments are rented to low-income or government-subsidized tenants.
Developer Wolff Enterprises also proposed to develop 15 acres on the back side of the site with single-family homes, but withdrew the application for the necessary land-use change Monday.
Applewood and Brantingham Greens homeowners also are upset that the city staff approved the change without a public hearing or getting the city council involved.
Deputy City Manager Bill King offered a qualified mea culpa on behalf of the city staff during the informal meeting Wednesday.
"We would do this differently if we had the opportunity," King said. "I still think the decision was appropriate under the rules. ... The decision was reviewed by myself and others. We all felt it was a proper application of the city's codes. That may turn out to be wrong."
While some of the homeowners were asking the city to withdraw approval and building permits for the apartment complex, King said the city's attorneys have advised that this can't be done without a directive from a court.
Boyd Wilson, who lives on Manchester Street, suggested the developer reconsider the apartment complex and build condominiums or townhouses instead.
"Nearly all of the surrounding area is owner-occupied," Wilson said. "You are disrupting our neighborhood."
Wilson said townhouses or condos could provide affordable homes for young couples or working professionals, would be marketable for the developer and would bring property tax dollars for the city.
"It would be a great development for all the parties," he said.
Joe Organic, a representative for Wolff Enterprises, said the company would consider that, but also worked to reassure the homeowners that an apartment complex would be high quality, would be buffered by trees and landscaping, and wouldn't devalue their neighborhood.
"I am trying to convey a sense of quality," he said.
Homeowners responded they were more concerned about cars and their property values than how many trees the company plants.
The homeowners' attorney has estimated a Benton County judge will have a preliminary hearing on the lawsuit in 30 to 45 days.
w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org