Citing a need to help business prosper in Spokane Valley, the City Council loosened its rules for nonconforming uses on Tuesday night.
The ruling will allow for Hite Crane and Rigging to further expand onto adjacent property in the Greenacres area of East Sprague. But at least one council member fears there will be unintended consequences that could result in the growth of unwanted uses in certain areas.
“One-hundred percent of adult shops are nonconforming uses,” said Council Member Bill Gothmann.
In a 6-1 vote, the council approved the second reading of the ordinance which allows the owner of a nonconforming property to expand to an adjacent parcel -- no matter when the second parcel was purchased.
The ruling effectively allows for the growth of nonconforming uses – which seeks to separate certain types of businesses from others in certain areas – rather than contain them. Gothmann argues, for example, that a body shop that has already been “grandfathered” as a nonconforming use into a residential neighborhood could expand onto the property next door against other residents’ wishes or without the city even informing them it was happening.
“That’s what open government is all about, informing its citizens,” Gothmann said.
Council Member Bob McCaslin repeated an argument he has made before in favor of the ruling: It’s conducive to keeping business in Spokane Valley.
“I’m very positive about this,” he said. “The more Hites we can get, the better off we’ll be.”
Gary Hite, for his part, said he just “wants to get on with his business.”
“That seems what most of this council wants to do,” he said.
Hite will be moving his heavy-equipment business from Havana and Broadway – which he must vacate due to the city of Spokane’s Havana Bridge project – to 17515 E. Sprague. That location is directly across from Greenacres Middle School and a major source of Gothmann’s concerns.
Dick Behm, a Sprague Avenue businessman who has a nonconforming use on his own property, said that the previous process – whereby a nonconforming business owner must seek a conditional use permit for expansion – is a better one.
“Under the conditional-use process, a public hearing before the hearing examiner is required,” he said. “All affected adjoining land owners and citizens are notified and have the opportunity to testify as to their concerns or support of a proposed change.”
That, however, also requires a $1,500 filing fee and no guarantee that the hearing examiner will agree to the business owner’s request. Under the new ruling, the city’s community development director can make the determination – but can’t impose conditions, such as fencing, setback requirements, etc.
“You may be opening the door to future problems,” Behm said.
Council Member Dean Grafos said he was glad the council could do something for Hite.
“I applaud him for wanting to expand his business in this environment,” Grafos said.
The council will not meet next Tuesday, Aug. 31. The next council meeting will be at 6 p.m. Sep. 7 at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.