Will a decision that will benefit one immediately have adverse effects to others later?
That’s the question the Spokane Valley City Council has been struggling with recently.
However, after last week’s terse discussion on the subject, it looks like the majority of the council has made its choice.
Until that happens officially, however, a heavy-equipment business operator will have to wait before he can begin his move onto property in the Greenacres area of East Sprague.
The matter is expected to be resolved at next Tuesday’s council meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.
The discussion Aug. 10 focused on whether or not the loosening of nonconforming use rules – which will benefit the owner of Hite Crane and Rigging by allowing the business to expand onto adjacent property for access purposes -- will unintentionally allow for the possible expansion of businesses in areas where they normally would not be allowed.
That scenario was most graphically illustrated by Council Member Bill Gothmann, the lone council member who was not in favor of moving the code text amendment forward to a second reading.
“This is the antithesis of neighborhood design,” he said.
Gothmann’s position is also the same as the city’s Planning Commission, which recommended in July that the council deny Gary Hite’s request to allow a nonconforming property to expand to an adjacent parcel -- no matter when the second parcel was purchased.
Nonconforming uses are created when an existing business continues to operate after a zone change no longer allows for that use. The business is continued to operate on the property, but generally has conditions placed upon it for future expansion if doing so would unduly affect its neighbors.
The Planning Commission ruled against the amendment change because the majority of its membership feared that it would allow for nonconforming uses to expand unchecked – and Gothmann said that could allow for more adult-entertainment businesses to pop up where they are unwanted.
“The sex shop (possibility) is very real,” Gothmann said.
One option the council considered as a possible compromise is making businesses that seek such expansion could attempt to secure a conditional-use permit. However, that would require a $1,500 fee and a ruling from the hearing examiner.
Council Member Dean Grafos said he considers that just more bureaucracy that a business owner – who may be struggling financially – would have to deal with.
“It’s just another step which would be more costly to the property owner,” he said.
After being quizzed on a series of hypothetical situations by Gothmann, City Attorney Mike Connelly – in his last meeting before the council – said the text amendment would affect all nonconforming businesses equally if they moved onto adjacent property.
“It would allow for expansion beyond the original nonconforming use,” he said.
Council Member Bob McCaslin said that, in these tough economic times, that may not be such a bad thing.
“We continually talk about the revitalization of Sprague Avenue,” he said, “and here we are about to put up another obstacle.”
When it came time for public comment on the issue, an e-mail by Planning Commission Member John Carroll was read into the record that the ruling would allow for adult-entertainment businesses “carte blanche to expand on our main street.” Grafos, however, countered that was a simply a “scare tactic.”
“He’s zoning in on porn shops and not any other type of business,” Grafos said.
McCaslin agreed, saying “to the public, quit going to (adult-entertainment businesses) and they’ll fold up.”
Gothmann, though, said such an attitude is too blasé and that Hite’s chosen location at 17515 E. Sprague is a good example why some nonconforming uses shouldn’t be allowed to proliferate.
“It’s right across the street from Greenacres (Middle School),” Gothmann said, adding there would be a dangerous mix of children and “70-foot vehicles.”
“I don’t think that’s a good mix,” he said.
Hite has to be off his existing property at Havana and Broadway by the end of October, as the city of Spokane will move into the next phase of its project to build a bridge over the railyards north of Broadway. His business is where footings for the new bridge will be located, so the city acquired the land through eminent domain proceedings.
Hite told the council he simply wants to continue to operate his business, which employs 30 others.
“If I’m not allowed to move in the next month, I’m out of business,” he said.
Gothmann said that Hite could have chosen another, and more appropriate, location for his business – such as on Trent Avenue. However, he said Hite chose the Sprague property because the city won’t charge him fees for operating heavy equipment on its street, as Washington would on a state highway like Trent.
McCaslin said that Gothmann needed to think about Hite’s situation and that the city was in a position to help a struggling business.
“For such a positive person, you sure are negative,” he said.