Richland seeks comments on planned apartments

Richland residents who won a court battle with city hall now have a chance to comment on a proposed 176-unit apartment complex in their backyards.

The city is taking written comments until 5 p.m. today on the Badger Mountain Village Planned Unit Development, before the city issues a determination on developer Wolff Enterprises II LLC's environmental checklist.

The environmental determination under the State Environmental Policy Act is the first step in a process that also will include a public hearing with more chances for public comment before the city's Planning Commission in late September or October, and an eventual vote by the city council.

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 and Brantingham Greens homeowners associations sued the city, Wolff Enterprises and Badger Mountain Village Investments in early October, arguing that they should have been notified of the changed proposal and had a chance to 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 Superior Court 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.