As the pre-election debate began to gain momentum in Spokane Valley last summer, the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan moved front and center on the platform of each candidate vying for City Council.
At a community forum last October, incumbent city leaders lauded the SARP as forward-thinking strategy to renew a corridor plagued by vacancies and aesthetic malaise. Council challengers, meanwhile, panned the approach as a costly and inefficient adjustment that would hurt business and throw zoning for a loop.
Dean Grafos, one of five members of a group calling itself “Positive Change,” said overturning the SARP would be one of his first priorities if elected.
Fellow challengers Brenda Grassel, Tom Towey and Bob McCaslin also expressed criticism of the plan, which went into effect last fall.
After SARP supporters Rich Munson, Ian Robertson and Diana Wilhite lost at the ballot in November, the future of Spokane Valley’s main thoroughfare appeared it would not include a blueprint for development that originated not long after incorporation in 2003.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the process of picking apart the SARP continued in earnest.
After Community Development Director Kathy McClung provided Spokane Valley’s governing board with an overview of a public meeting on June 22 that addressed mixed-use zones along Sprague, council members voiced their support of changing various aspects of the SARP, from parking and setbacks to permitted commercial uses. While some of the adjustments, like the addition of boat sales, full-service restaurants and vehicle sales (proposed by Grafos on Tuesday) can be addressed through a process known as a code text amendment, others, like parking parameters, must be included in the annual overhaul of the city’s comprehensive plan.
McClung described how attendees at the mixed-use meeting supported the shift of traffic along Sprague from one-way to two-way between University and Argonne, a recommendation already included in the SARP. Grafos responded by saying he thought the issue would be “put to a vote,” although council has yet to confirm the specifics of a ballot initiative.
Council Member Rose Dempsey, who cast the only vote to hold off on dismantling the SARP back in March, expressed support for architectural standards along the corridor, an issue that had raised concerns as too costly and inflexible at the June 22 meeting.
“I think it provides some regulations so we can have a certain compatibility for business along the corridor,” Dempsey said.
After McClung emphasized that the standards could be basic and relatively inexpensive to implement, the council agreed that flexibility would be the key to retaining architectural provisions.
The council did move ahead with proposed changes to setbacks within the SARP, a component that would have required retail parking on the side or back of buildings. Instead, council advocated for parking in the front of businesses – an approach criticized by SARP proponents who hoped to emphasize pedestrian elements and landscaping as opposed to sprawling concrete lots.
In the case of alterations to buildings along Sprague, the SARP originally stated that if expansions or other reconstruction projects amounted to 50 percent or more of the site’s appraised or assessed property and building value, the changes would need to comply with the new regulations. On Tuesday, Grafos led the charge to raise the threshold to 80 percent.
Council held off on making recommendations to signage along the corridor based on a current review of the citywide sign code. Also put off was a provision within the SARP for new streets to be included with any development over five acres. While Towey and others acknowledged the need for more north/south roadways, Deputy City Attorney Cary Driskell advised that the city would need to look at the legal ramifications of such a requirement.
Code text amendments dealing with issues such as architectural standards will now go back to the city’s planning commission for review. A public hearing will take place before changes go back to council for a final decision.
Council’s recommendations about parking is considered an amendment to the comprehensive plan. The process of collecting proposed adjustments to the plan will continue until Nov. 1 with the discussion regarding changes beginning in January 2011.