Fast and loose was the name of the game at Tuesday night’s Spokane Valley City Council.
Council members expressed an interest in moving quickly, where they could, in loosening zoning restrictions in the existing “gateway” zones in the Auto Row of Sprague Avenue. Much of the council’s wish list can be accomplished with code amendments after a review by the Planning Commission. More sweeping changes – such as overhauling the sign code – will take more time with tweaks to the municipal code or revisions to the city’s comprehensive plan, which can only be accomplished once a year.
The council made no formal decisions Tuesday – that will come at the June 15 meeting – however it did spend nearly two hours sifting through comments made at a May 20 workshop where property owners expressed some of their frustrations with the “gateway” zone requirements and the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan in general.
The council – the majority of which elected on the “Positive Change” ticket and critical of the subarea plan for Sprague -- directed staff to move through the SARP zone by zone and contact affected property owners to see what changes need to be made.
Most of the feedback came from the car dealers on Auto Row, who are interested in less-restrictive requirements to the sign code. Two pole signs per parcel, instead of one, were requested on double-frontage lots along with having signage be allowed at the two- or three-story level on walls and not just on the first floor.
Council Member Brenda Grassel said she has heard concerns from community members about the sign code in general being too restrictive.
“We do have to address that,” she said.
The city attorney, however, said that might be better addressed as a separate issue since it’s not just an issue on Sprague but the entire city.
Mayor Tom Towey agreed.
“Let’s leave it the way it is for now, and we’ll address the sign issue at a later date,” he said.
The issue of setbacks was also brought up. While predominantly an issue of new construction on Sprague Avenue, Council Member Dean Grafos said he was in favor of reducing or removing the setback requirement to allow for greater space for auto, boat and truck sales on Auto Row.
Connelly said the issue would be looked at in preparation for a motion next week.
“We can’t make that analysis on the fly,” he said.
Grafos said he was also interested in letting more business uses rather than just dealerships, restaurants and office space on Auto Row. Grassel said Grafos had the right idea.
“It’s just another example of government getting in the way of the private sector,” she said.
Connelly said that loosening the zoning to that extent would likely trigger a need to change the comprehensive plan. Complementary uses, such as office space, could be adjusted sooner after being sent to the Planning Commission.
Council Member Bill Gothmann noted, however, that the reason SARP was approved by the previous council is because of the overabundance of available commercial space on Sprague, leading to a high number of vacancies.
There was also discussion on whether or not a building has to be constructed under the more restrictive architectural conditions of SARP if it is 80 percent or more damaged by fire or other catastrophe. That requirement, however, is part of the city’s municipal code and would also have to be dealt with separately.
Connelly suggested if the council wants to lessen restrictions or that a structure would have to be destroyed before it has to meet the new rules, it consider the catalyst behind the law.
“The reason is to get rid of nonconforming uses,” he said, adding you couldn’t replace a business that was located next to homes, for example, if it burned to the ground. “It wouldn’t go anywhere.”
In other news, the council agreed to continue to fund the televising of council meetings on a $3,000 month-to-month basis at least through the end of July. Community Minded Television has taped the meetings and replayed the video on Mondays evenings. Up to now, the tab has been picked up through donations collected by the Spokane Valley Business Association.
Grafos, when asked for items to be placed on a future agenda, said he wanted more information on converting Sprague-Appleway back to two-way arterials. He added he would like to see a ballot question placed before voters in November. Staff members said they would gather information and put the item on a future agenda.
Finally, no action was taken by the council Tuesday on a proposal to suspend the restriping of Broadway Avenue from four lanes to two with a center turn lane from Pines to Park roads. While that discussion with a possible motion had been scheduled, it was moved to the June 29 council meeting.