Mayor Lukson began the June 1 Richland City Council meeting by reading a proclamation recognizing the Juneteenth celebration on June 19. Some members of the council had indicated at an earlier meeting that they viewed such a proclamation as “partisan.” Apparently, they were a minority.
The council spent most of the hour-long meeting discussing a request that the 500 square foot dwelling unit minimum size for the central business district be eliminated. The Richland Planning Commission submitted the proposal to the council after the commission voted unanimously to approve the change.
Ziad Elsahili, president of Fortify Holdings from Portland, OR, requested the change in order to convert the Days Inn Hotel on Jadwin Avenue into apartments. According to Elsahili, who spoke during the council’s public comment period, his company will spend between 30 and 50 thousand dollars per unit adding kitchens and providing other upgrades. He said that the rental price has not yet been determined.
Elsahili has several other similar projects in the Pacific Northwest.
Reviews on internet sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Travelocity generally describe the Richland Days Inn as showing its age. The hotel was built in 1974. Nobody mentions the murder there in April 2020.
In an email to the Observer, Interim City Manager Jon Amundson said that the rooms at the Days Inn were about 330-360 sq. ft. The Park Place apartments, about a block away on George Washington Way, have some efficiencies in that size range. According to Amundson, Park Place received an administrative variance to allow their smaller units.
Councilmember Bob Thompson said at the last council workshop on May 25 that Richland wasn’t Portland and he didn’t think there was a market for such small apartments. However, on Tuesday he had decided, “The market will tell us.”
Councilmember Sandra Kent agreed with Thompson saying, “Government shouldn’t get in the way of progress.”
Other councilmembers weren’t convinced. Councilmember Terry Christensen worried that the city could lose the budget-priced Days Inn that he described as being popular with sports tourists. “My heart is with tourism,” he said.
Christensen didn’t believe the remodeling and conversion would upgrade the area. He said, “Low rent areas are the areas with the most crime.”
Councilmember Marianne Boring objected to the zoning change because she said that surrounding residential zones already allow smaller units. She said she thought that changing the central business district zoning would allow too many small units in the area. Boring said that she might approve a percentage of smaller units being allowed in the central business district but would not approve changing the entire zone.
Before being appointed to the city council to fill a resignation vacancy, Boring served for about 14 years on the Planning Commission and close to 20 years on the Board of Adjustment.
The vote was 5-2 on this first reading. Before the change can be adopted, the council must vote on it again at a second reading, probably at the next meeting on June 15.