The message sent by about 70 south Richland residents to the developer proposing a 176-unit apartment complex in their backyards was loud and clear Monday night.
"We don't want this."
The residents packed into the council chambers at city hall to hear from Wolff Enterprises as the developer and the city start a fresh process to evaluate the apartment development after a Benton County judge sent them back to the drawing board in late January.
"Basically the clock has been set back so we're at the very beginning of this review process," said Deputy City Manager Bill King. "We're trying to look at this proposal through new eyes."
Joe Organick, a representative for Wolff, said the company plans to appeal the court decision, but also plans to apply for a major amendment to the planned unit development the city approved back in 2005.
The apartment complex planned by Wolff sparked controversy late last year after residents in the nearby Applewood Estates and Brantingham Greens developments learned the city had granted what it considered a minor amendment to the planned unit development without any public hearings or sending the amendment to the city council for consideration.
The amendment changed the development from a planned mix of senior apartments, assisted living and single-family homes spread across 30 acres to higher-density apartment units on 15 acres.
Rick Simon, the city's development services manager, deemed the change a minor alteration to the previously approved plan and gave his OK.
But members of the Applewood Estates Homeowners Association and Brantingham Greens Homeowners Association filed suit against the city, Wolff Enterprises and Badger Mountain Village Investments in early October, arguing that they should have been provided notice of the changed proposal and had an opportunity for comment.
They also argued the change increased the density and would add traffic to the neighborhood, drive down property values, overburden schools and could attract crime if the apartments are rented to low-income or government-subsidized tenants.
City code gives Simon the authority to approve minor changes, but Judge Cameron Mitchell ruled that it was clear to him the change was major, not minor.
A major change requires a public hearing before the city's planning commission and a final vote by the city council.
It also requires the plan to be analyzed under the requirements of the State Environmental Policy Act -- more rigorous scrutiny of how the development will affect the environment and surrounding neighborhood than is done for a minor amendment.
The city hired Reid Shockey, an independent planning consultant from Everett, to oversee the review to make sure everything is done properly this time.
"I'm here to make sure the rules are followed," Shockey said.
King said the city's insurance association is paying the first $10,000 of Shockey's fee. Whether the city pays anything depends on how many hours Shockey spends on the project.
Organick tried to assure the crowd that the apartments will be high-quality and won't drag down their property values or invite crime.
But the bottom line voiced by many in the crowd was that they don't like what Wolff is proposing and don't trust the city to make a decision that takes into account their points of view.
Tony Valdez, president of the Applewood Estates Homeowner's Association, said the biggest problems are that Wolff wants to drop the age restrictions and increase the density on the property.
"Unless those two things change, you could line the apartments in gold and it wouldn't change our minds," he said.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org