The Elephant Boys cleared its final hurdle Tuesday, as the Spokane Valley City Council approved a rule change that will allow the East Sprague business to operate in compliance with city rules.
“It’s a benefit to land owners,” said Ben Goodmanson, who testified on behalf of the property owners. “The restriction of land use can pose a challenge.”
The decision, approved unanimously, creates a text amendment that will allow vehicle sales as an allowed use in the existing “mixed-use avenue” zone classification.
The ruling also satisfied a similar request by Todd Whipple of Whipple Consulting Engineers to benefit Elephant Boys, located at 12606 E. Sprague. The business sells boats and moved merchandise on adjacent property, which was not allowed under city rules.
The city, however, received complaints from a neighbor. The business was allowed to continue to operate while an appeal worked its way through the legal process.
The amendment now means the business can continue its sales, as long as the owner applies for a conditional-use permit. That process requires a public hearing before the hearing examiner, who has the authority to impose restrictions when making his ruling.
Council Member Dean Grafos has expressed again his desire to have the community development director administratively decide whether or not a nonconforming use could operate.
“Couldn’t we add language to make this an administrative decision?” he asked.
Cary Driskell, deputy city attorney, said that would be a separate process that would have to go to the Planning Commission first, which would include a public hearing.
The allowance of vehicle sales in other zone classifications on Sprague Avenue is something that also can be addressed when the city comprehensive plan comes up for review.
In another land-use decision, the council – after some legislative wrangling that took several minutes to sort out – passed a first reading of changes that will relax some of the stricter provisions of the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan.
On Aug. 26, the Planning Commission agreed to several tweaks in the “gateway commercial avenue” and “gateway commercial center” zones west of Argonne Road. Setbacks will be pushed back to 100 feet from the previous 30 feet to allow for vehicle displays in the GCA areas, and office uses that pertain to auto sales – like accounting, insurance and legal services – will also be allowed.
Wall signs will also be allowed to expand from 15 to 25 percent of the wall size per wall. And freestanding signs will be allowed per street on dual-frontage lots.
The only area the council is leaning on deviating from the Planning Commission recommendation is allowing for signage above the first floor on buildings. The provision was left in place to encourage pedestrian traffic, which Auto Row dealers – who heavily populate the gateway zones – said they wanted early on in the SARP planning process.
Council Member Bob McCaslin, however, expressed incredulity at that idea.
“What does that accomplish?” he asked.
When told by city planning staff that the provision was for the benefit of those walking in the area, McCaslin asked, “Both of them?”
Council Member Rose Dempsey said she was in favor of leaving the rule alone to avoid a proliferation of “screaming signs” on second and third floors of buildings. She was the sole “no” vote, and the ordinance will come before the council for final approval on Sept. 28.
The council has given direction to city staff that it wants to review the entire city’s sign code, and specific rules in each zone that can’t be addressed through text amendments will be up for consideration when the council considers changes to the comprehensive plan in November.
McCaslin, for his part, expressed a desire for wholesale changes to the entire plan – not just specific tweaks that have been added to an ever-growing list.
“Can we look at the entire comprehensive plan or just those we’ve listed?” McCaslin asked Driskell. “Can we make changes with four (council) votes?”
Driskell said there could be some legal issues with public notification.
“It would be legal,” he said. “We would be notifying the public we would be looking at the entire plan.”
Driskell said he would try to have an answer at next Tuesday’s council meeting.