On the advice of the city attorney, Spokane Valley City Council members won’t be able to make any substantive changes to the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan until next year.
They may, however, make incremental tweaks to the SARP over the next several months as long as they don’t contradict the city’s previously adopted comprehensive plan that regulates land use and zoning in accordance with the state-mandated Growth Management Act.
“The bottom line is…it’s the safest method to do it without (legal) challenge,” Mike Connelly, Spokane Valley city attorney, told the council at its Tuesday night meeting.
Four of the sitting council members campaigned last fall on a message of “Positive Change,” galvanized by vocal opponents of the SARP, who were vehemently opposed to the plan’s restrictive zone changes that would force retail and many commercial uses to busy intersections along the Sprague-Appleway corridor and encourage growth in a proposed city center around the University City shopping center.
At a Feb. 9 winter retreat, Council Member Dean Grafos – a Sprague business owner who has been the most vocal SARP opponent – said he wanted to fast-track a “moratorium” on the SARP, which really would amount to a suspension of the rules that went into place last October after the plan was approved by the previous council.
At the retreat, Grafos presented several letters from those opposing SARP, some who said they would have built or expanded business on Sprague but could not due to the zone changes.
“The fact is, you cannot restrict economic activity and expect to increase economic activity,” Grafos said at the time.
But even if such testimony were the basis for “emergency” interim zoning to be put in place, such a change would be in conflict with the city’s comprehensive plan – and subject to legal challenge.
“I can tell you, doing it that way would be subject to challenge,” Connelly said, adding that it would also not give the public an adequate chance to comment.
When asked by Council Member Brenda Grassel, who also was elected on the Positive Change ticket, who would challenge zone changes that could possibly benefit business growth, Connelly was quick to answer.
“Anyone who doesn’t agree with you,” he said, adding that there were several organized – and well-funded – organizations looking to “poke holes” in land-use ordinances.
“They’re certainly out there,” Connelly said. “They file challenges all the time.”
Connelly said that the course best protected under the law for the council to proceed is to make any changes during the annual comprehensive plan amendment cycle, which begins in November.
Until that time, however, the council may address and study individual aspects of the SARP, such as the development standards, and solicit comment from the public and make revisions as long as those changes don’t contradict the comprehensive plan. Any updates of changes, however, would have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission first, and public comment would be received at that time.
Grafos made a motion at the conclusion of the meeting to go forward with Connelly’s suggestion, with the council possibly taking formal action at its next meeting on March 23. The council does not meet on March 16.
In other news the council:
- rejected, by a 4-3 voted, the first reading of an ordinance that would restrict fence heights in front yards of commercial industrial zones. It would also clarify clear-view triangle standards at intersections and allow for electric and barbed-wire fences in one-acre lot areas.
- unanimously approved the passage of an ordinance that would allow second-hand stores to be allowed in light-industrial zones with a minimum 15,000 square-footage. The council agreed to have the Planning Commission to have that amount reduced to possibly 5,000 square feet to allow for more uses.
- unanimously agreed to send a letter to Comcast to temporarily withhold payment of $150,000 to the city to purchase equipment to televise council meetings. The suspension also removes the 35-cent charge to cable customers within the city for that purpose. The matter of broadcasting meetings will be further studied by the council in the future.