The Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan had top billing when candidates for the Spokane Valley City Council gathered at CenterPlace last month.
While incumbents like Richard Munson, Diana Wilhite and Ian Robertson touted the SARP as an effective blueprint for development and resurgence along the city’s main corridor, challengers such as Brenda Grassel, Dean Grafos and Bob McCaslin criticized the document as a restrictive, impractical and costly zoning tool.
Meanwhile groups like Friends of Spokane Valley and the remaining vestiges of the latest disincorporation movement expressed their disfavor of the SARP in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 general election. On the other side, organizations including the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, Auto Row and the Spokane Valley Business Association endorsed the approach with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
After Grafos, McCaslin and Grassel were voted onto the City Council earlier this month, along with Positive Change cohorts Tom Towey and Gary Schimmels – who have also criticized the SARP – it remains to be seen if the document will be amended or even dismantled altogether.
At the Oct. 7 candidate forum sponsored by the Valley Chamber, Grafos said he would work to overturn the SARP if elected, saying it contained an unfair mandate for “people and businesses to relocate to U-City.”
Over a month later, the newly elected Grafos said his stance is the same.
“My sense of where I’m at on the SARP has not changed,” he said. “It’s special interest zoning that’s going to hurt retail development.”
A business owner along the corridor, Grafos supported the latest
Disincorporate Now! effort and spoke out against the SARP at a number of meetings prior to the Oct. 15 implementation of the plan. As he transitions into Robertson’s appointed council chair on Dec.1, Grafos said he “continues to listen to what the community is saying about the SARP.”
“It’s going to be a learning process,” he said. “I’m going to wait until the other (Positive Change) guys are on board.”
That transition will take place in January when McCaslin, Grafos and Towey take over, respectively, for Munson, Wilhite and Deputy Mayor Dick Denenny, who decided against running for re-election.
Schimmels and Council Member Rose Dempsey voted against the SARP when the final rendition was presented to City Council in June. One of the five votes in support of the 201-page document included Council Member Bill Gothmann who now expresses hope that municipal leaders “will unite the city to do something on behalf of the Sprague/Appleway corridor.”
“I think it’s going to be important that we develop something we can all support,” Gothmann said. “It’s clear that there are problems on Sprague. This shouldn’t be a polarizing issue.”
Gothmann said that the SARP was revised or rescinded, it would need to go through a procedure that would include public hearings and review by the state Department of Commerce. If considered a comprehensive plan issue, Gothmann said the process “would probably take about a year.”
Eldonna Shaw, executive director of the Valley Chamber, said that while the organization didn’t officially endorse council candidates, the Positive Change coalition “knew we were in favor of the SARP.”
The chamber designated a task force that spent close to two years studying the various facets of the document before passing on their stamp of approval.
“We spent a lot of time reviewing it and made recommendations that the council accepted,” Shaw said. “There is a need for a common vision about what Sprague/Appleway will become. We just hope that the community can work together.”
Bonnie Quinn of the Quinn Group, the advertising agency that represents the auto dealerships along the corridor, told council members in May of last year that the SARP placed too much emphasis on the developing a city center in the U-City area, an approach that overlooked the importance of refurbishing Auto Row. Even though the group did endorse the plan, Quinn said it came with reservations.
“We’re the anchor tenants to the tax base but it seems like we were an afterthought,” she said.
Quinn pointed to the exit of the George Gee dealership to Liberty Lake as a key loss to the retail area. She added that “the current City Council had gotten the message that they were taking Auto Row for granted.” According to Spokane Valley Finance Director Ken Thompson, revenue generated by Auto Row represents around 20 percent of Spokane Valley’s annual sale tax base.
“I think if the latest council would have stayed in, they would have treated Auto Row differently,” Quinn said. “Now I don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s like starting over again. We don’t know with this new council if they’re going to be helpful or not.”
Grassel and Grafos both said they would be willing to listen to representatives from the chamber, Auto Row and other groups regarding the future of the SARP.
“I don’t have a problem with the community being a part of it,” Grassel said.
Grassel added that she would support dissolving the plan with the exception of the initiative to extend Appleway to the east, a portion of the SARP that accounts for $24 million of the overall $34.5 million cost.
“There are opportunities that Spokane Valley has missed because of the zoning they’ve put in,” Grassel said. “There are builders out there who want to make improvements along Sprague, but aren’t because of SARP.”
Jack Pring, a local developer who supported the Positive Change candidates, said the incoming council members “came in with a mandate from the people.”
“I have confidence that these people share the same vision,” Pring said. “It’s a vision for the future that I share.”
As for specific changes to the SARP or a rescinding of the plan altogether, Pring was a little more abstract.
“I can’t tell you all the steps they have to take,” he said. “I think they’re headed in the right direction. I think it will be in the best interest of the majority of the community.”
Dempsey, who will soon rank third on the council seniority list, said she hoped the new representatives on the city’s governing board would be “reasonable” when looking at the SARP and other potential revisions.
“After all the work that’s been done, I hope we could salvage some of it,” Dempsey said. “I hope that when they find out what’s involved, they’ll keep the good parts.”
Gothmann, an engineer who taught courses in problem-solving at Eastern Washington University, expressed optimism that the new blend of leadership could find common ground.
“It will be important to address the concerns that recently elected council members have with the SARP,” Gothmann said. “I think there needs to be goodwill on behalf of all those who serve on City Council. We need to work together for the good of the city.”