On Oct. 15, 2009, the key was finally turned on the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.
On Tuesday night, just over a year later, SARP came to a skidding halt on the dais of the Spokane Valley City Council, which agreed 5-2 to begin the process to revoke the subarea plan in whole and return to pre-SARP 2007 zoning.
While not officially dead yet – the council’s action still must be studied by the city’s Planning Commission before coming back to the council in 2011 as part of the annual comprehensive plan review – the ever-controversial SARP is on life-support until spring.
“My concern is the health of small business (along the corridor),” Mayor Tom Towey said before the vote was cast. “Not 20 years from now, but right now.”
Towey’s comments came after over two dozen public comments and two and a half hours of testimony. The council then – by the same 5-2 vote – called for an emergency amendment to the comprehensive plan that will delete the existing “city center” zone in the area of Sprague and University and restore a “mixed use” designation that is believed to be more enticing to new development.
That action, too, must go to the Planning Commission for review, but it could see final action by the council before the end of the year to make it official.
With little surprise, the two dissenting votes for both motions came from Council Members Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey. They are the only two members of the governing body not elected last November in a wave of “Positive Change” candidates who declared war on the SARP in their campaign promises. Chuck Hafner, a retired Spokane Valley educator and orchestrator of the Positive Change movement, reminded those council members of their pledge.
“As council members, I believe you must honor that request,” Hafner said. “A concept like SARP might be successful in a large metropolitan city, but not a city like Spokane Valley.”
As conceived last year when it was approved by the former City Council, the subarea plan was a 20-year vision that sought to transform the sprawling, six-mile Sprague-Appleway corridor – and its plethora of vacant storefronts – from commercial-heavy arterials to boulevards with clusters of townhouses and boutique shopping. The one-way couplet would be reconfigured to two two-way roadways between University and Dishman-Mica in an effort to slow traffic down and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
But much of the criticism of SARP hinged on the strict development guidelines along much of the corridor that would have been in place to direct new construction in the area of the proposed city center first. Those architectural standards – which included reducing setbacks, situating parking to the rear and two-story designs – were deemed too restrictive to entice new business in an already sluggish economy.
“It’s too big, too far-reaching,” said Todd Whipple. “The breadth and scope of SARP is too great an issue.”
James Magnuson, an owner of University City property, said via a letter that the lack of a new City Hall in that area or the participation of the Spokane County Library District – both considered to be key components at one time – means that it’s time to broaden the possibilities for that area.
“Without this partnership, the city center cannot be developed and the property will languish underutilized,” Magnuson wrote. “With pre-SARP zoning, the property has a much better chance in today’s economic times of being redeveloped…”
Some, though, criticized the council for moving ahead with SARP’s demise without an alternate plan to follow instead.
“It’s appalling that you haven’t done anything to replace it,” said Rich Munson, who was mayor at the time SARP was approved. “Are you doing this to appease a special-interest group that contributed to your campaign? Is it too much work? If it is, maybe you ought to consider resigning.”
Milt Newman, owner of A-to-Z Rentals, a mainstay on Sprague Avenue for years, concurred.
“The council is actually considering the possibility of killing this?” he asked. “An alternate plan? There is none. If there is, it hasn’t been presented. Do not kill SARP unless you have an alternate plan that makes sense.”
Gothmann also said a new plan is necessary as simply revoking the subarea plan does not deal with the number of vacant buildings on Sprague or the blighted appearance of the arterial.
“If not SARP, let’s get another (plan) on the table,” he said.
Council Member Brenda Grassel said the council would be exploring alternatives in the future, including the city’s access to the Spokane River and its agricultural past.
“There are a number of ideas, fantastic ideas,” she said. “We haven’t begun to scratch the surface.”
Council Member Bob McCaslin said the free market would ultimately decide the corridor’s fate.
“There is a plan to change the SARP,” he said. “There’s the private enterprise system.”
Others, however, wanted to focus on the future directions of Sprague and Appleway. The existing one-way west configuration of Sprague has been blamed for the dearth of commercial activity west of University on that road.
“What happened to all the business? The couplet killed it,” said Mike Dixon.
Gothmann said the council still needs to consider that in the future.
“Whether we adopt SARP or not or repeal it or not, it does not tackle the one-way, two-way issue,” he said. “It’s a separate issue.”
Council Member Dean Grafos revisited an idea he had earlier in the year for dealing with that problem.
“Put it on the ballot,” he said. “Put it up to a vote, if the (taxpayers) want to pay for it, that’s fine with me.”
While it’s been estimated the city spent $1.2 million developing SARP thus far, revoking the plan could cost Spokane Valley even more money. The city may have to pay back $300,000 to the federal government that was already spend for an initial environmental assessment to extend Appleway east beyond University Road. That possible eventuality is still being investigated by city staff.