Citing a “need for urgency,” the majority of the Spokane Valley City Council said they wanted to take steps to move forward with suspending the current zoning rules under the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.
The topic was just one of several that got an airing at last Tuesday’s council winter retreat at CenterPlace. After a presentation on the history of land use and zoning since the city incorporated, the SARP was singled out for retooling – or elimination – by the council.
The subarea plan, which was approved by the council last year and that went into effect on Oct. 15, has stricter guidelines for development on sections of Sprague, and that situation has put hundreds of parcels into noncompliance with the current zoning code, affecting their property value, according to Council Member Dean Grafos. It’s also caused situations where new businesses could have possibly relocated on Sprague but chose not to due to the zone changes.
Grafos also said the city has been experiencing a drop in building permits, from 640 in 2007 to 555 in 2008 and 343 in 2009. With new construction on the wane, he said, now is not the time to impose stricter guidelines.
“The fact is, you cannot restrict economic activity and expect to increase economic activity,” Grafos told the council, reading from a prepared statement. “We live in a competitive world environment (and) are competing with our neighbors to the east in Idaho besides Spokane and Spokane County.”
For these reasons, Grafos proposed the council suspend the enforcement provisions on the SARP and return the city to the zoning entitlements in force in 2007. Grafos clarified he was talking only about the commercial zones, not residential areas.
Grafos – along with new Council Members Brenda Grassel and Bob McCaslin, Mayor Tom Towey and incumbent Gary Schimmels – were elected to office last November on a platform of “Positive Change,” which targeted the SARP as destructive to development along Sprague, despite endorsement from the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Valley Business Association.
“Despite heavy opposition and protest from the community, the previous council chose the SVBA and leadership of the Valley Chamber of Commerce as representative of our community wishes, totally ignoring the real community,” Grafos said.
City staff members reminded the council that the reasoning behind the SARP was that the 10-mile plus stretch of Sprague through the Spokane Valley area could not support the glut of commercial zoning that was in place – hence the high amount of vacancies -- so it was restricted to larger intersections and other specific areas. The plan is to encourage other uses, such as high-density housing, into a mix that would include more walkable streets, stricter building and setback requirements, and also aesthetic improvements like more green space and moving parking to the rear of structures.
But those type of restrictions are why a bank, proposed by Marshall Clark of Clark Pacific Real Estate, could not be located on the northeast corner of Sprague and Bowdish, Grafos said. Instead, a convenience store sits there now.
“I certainly would have liked to have had the bank, but (it) is not allowed under the city’s new plan,” Clark wrote in a letter to Grafos dated Jan. 4, 2010.
These are the types of “roadblocks,” Towey said, that need to go away in the city during the current recession.
“Is SARP a roadblock? I don’t know,” he said, adding that getting business back on Sprague could require “getting rid of the SARP program or it might take picking it apart.”
Council Member Bill Gothmann said the council needs to move cautiously, however, and the council needs to discuss what, exactly, needs to be changed.
“Mr. Grafos has identified a solution before we’ve identified a problem,” he said.
Council Member Rose Dempsey also said some more discussion is in order and that city staff will work with the council to come up with some reasonable alternatives.
“I daresay there isn’t a staff member who wakes up, goes to work and says, ‘How do I screw the public?’” she said.
Mike Jackson, acting city manager, said city staff had been “handed a very complex project” and would need a couple of weeks to “lay this out carefully.”
“We shouldn’t state the solution up front,” he said.
But Grassel said the city shouldn’t take too long.
“I think there’s a need for urgency and not drag this out for all 2010,” she said.
Dempsey added, however, that the process needs to be deliberative and open.
“The public needs to comment,” she said.