The Richland City Council in a 6-1 vote Tuesday approved a settlement agreement that should resolve an almost two-year dispute about a proposed south Richland apartment complex.
The settlement agreement allows developer Wolff Enterprises II to proceed with a 176-unit apartment complex off Brantingham Road, while developing 15 acres between the apartments and nearby single-family home neighborhoods with a maximum of 15 houses on lots of at least 20,000 square feet.
It also calls for the city to pay $50,000 to the Applewood Estates Homeowners Association for streetscape improvements, and to buy three acres from Wolff for development of a park that also would act as a buffer between the apartments and nearby homes.
The apartment complex planned by Wolff sparked controversy in 2010 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.
However, Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell in January 2011 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.
Mitchell's decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals, which said the homeowners failed to file their petition against the change within the required 21-day timeframe for land-use decisions.
Deputy City Manager Bill King told the council Tuesday that the city had learned from the experience and thought the agreement should resolve the conflict.
But Councilman Bob Thompson and Councilwoman Sandra Kent -- both lawyers -- said they were concerned the settlement agreement didn't do enough to protect the city from being sued about the development in the future.
"I have concerns because I can see this going south in a variety of ways," Thompson said.
Mayor John Fox said he thought the settlement could help repair the rift between homeowners and the city.
"I think this will be a healing thing for the community," he said.
City Attorney Tom Lampson said he thought the settlement was the city's best path forward.
"We'll see," Lampson said.
Thompson's was the only vote against the settlement.
-- The council approved funding agreements with the Washington State Department of Transportation for federal grants that will pay for the first phase of construction for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.
Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky said the work likely will be put to bid in mid-April and construction would start in June.
The first phase involves installing utility lines, and building a parking lot, access road and outdoor amphitheater for the proposed museum and is expected to cost about $3 million.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org