A handful of south Richland residents were disappointed Friday to arrive in Benton County Superior Court and learn a hearing in their lawsuit against the city had been postponed until December.
Members of the Applewood Estates Homeowners Association and Brantingham Greens Homeowners Association filed suit against the city, developer Wolff Enterprises and Badger Mountain Village Investments in early October seeking to overturn a city decision that allowed the developer to repurpose a planned senior housing complex on 30 acres as $1,100-per-month apartments on 15 acres.
The homeowners had hoped to clear a hurdle Friday with arguments scheduled on requests by the city and Wolff to dismiss the suit, but those arguments were moved to Dec. 10 because there weren't enough judges on duty Friday to allow time for the hearing.
In the meantime, Wolff has started preparing the site for construction, and the homeowners fear the genie might be out of the bottle.
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"Wolff apparently isn't worried we're going to stop them," said Ross Neely, one of the Applewood residents involved.
Neely said he went for a walk Friday morning and saw workers digging footings for the three-story apartment buildings.
Attorney Joel Comfort, representing the homeowners, said they had decided against trying to stop the construction while the lawsuit is pending, but that the developer was building at its own risk.
"In the event we prevail, the construction will stop," Comfort said.
Representatives for Wolff in Spokane did not return a call Friday.
Homeowners living near the proposed apartments have argued that the plan change increases the density and will add traffic to the neighborhood, drive down property values, overburden schools and potentially attract crime if apartments are rented to low-income or government-subsidized tenants.
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.
"This is all on the city," Neely said.
Wolff 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.
Neely said Friday he was disappointed with the delay.
"This is so very typical of the court system," he said. "We'll just keep fighting the good fight. That's all we can do."