For a short time Tuesday night, it looked like the idea of a potential, albeit abbreviated, Spokane Valley “city center” in the area of Sprague and University would remain on life support.
However, the majority of the City Council – including Mayor Tom Towey, who seemed initially interested in keeping a portion of the area designated for a potential city hall and other uses – pulled the plug on that plan in a short study session meeting.
“The city center has moved on,” declared Council Member Dean Grafos.
Tuesday’s study session served as a preview of next week’s regular meeting, where the City Council will get its first crack at dissembling a major portion of the Sprague-Appleway
Revitalization Plan: an urbanized, pedestrian-friendly municipal hub in the former University City area.
The council can do so by declaring an “emergency ordinance” Jan. 11 that would amend the comprehensive plan that would dissolve the existing “city center” zoning – roughly between Walnut and Bowdish roads between Main and Fourth avenues – and replacing it with a “mixed use” designation. The action wouldn’t become official until a second reading and final approval on Jan. 25.
While some council members were little uncertain at first as to the direction they wanted to take – Towey, in particular – in the end the council appears to be headed to the same 5-2 vote from last October that brought it to this point.
However, a portion of the property encompassed in the potential rezone is owned by Jack Pring, who has indicated he wants to locate a car lot on the site – a concept that is allowed in the mixed-use designation.
Grafos said, however, it’s not about that.
“This is not about Jack Pring’s property, this about the SARP plan,” he said, adding that the current designations restricts uses to the point of stagnating potential development in an already lurching economy.
“We are talking about jobs,” Grafos said. “That’s why I do think it’s an emergency.”
Former City Attorney Mike Connelly – who has been advising the council and city staff members on the best way to proceed – said the safest course to avoid legal challenge would be to amend the zoning during the usual comprehensive plan review period, which would not be completed until March or April.
“Then the challenge wouldn’t exist,” he said.
However, by declaring an “emergency,’ there is potential for litigation – especially since the city’s Planning Commission was not amenable to supporting the proposal.
“The proposed amendment was processed too quickly and without sufficient public input,” it states in the Dec. 9 findings of the Planning Commission. “There wasn’t sufficient statistical information and/or survey of the community to gauge citizen support for the city center to be removed from the SARP.”
To correct that, Council Member Bill Gothmann proposed reducing the city center zoning to the east of the Pring property. He added that since the emergency rezone would affect businesses as far east as Bowdish, the city needs to hear from their owners. Later, if the council wished to change the rest of the property to mixed-use, it could.
“We’ve only heard from three property owners out of 200,” Gothmann said.
That idea at first seemed plausible to Towey.
“Certainly we have some jobs at stake,” he said. “I think the proposal of Mr. Gothmann is a reasonable one.”
Connelly agreed that the change could be made without sending the matter back to the Planning Commission.
Council Member Rose Dempsey, who was on the losing end of a 5-2 vote with Gothmann to move the emergency ordinance forward last October, also supported Gothmann.
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels, however, voiced his support for Grafos’ plan to move the emergency amendment to the Jan. 11 meeting.
“We have an effort underway for an emergency ordinance,” he said. “I’d like to move forward.”
Towey then reversed any support he may have had for Gothmann.
“I think we have an emergency. I really do,” he said. “I’m not an expert in land use. But I know we have property owners that are hurting.”
Dempsey said that she didn’t consider the situation an emergency.
“The situation is dire, but not enough to jump up and down and say ‘emergency!’” she said. “I think it’s a mistake to do this.”
Schimmels then countered that Dempsey should consider it an “opportunity” instead.
“It’s not my idea, it’s yours,” she said. “’Emergency’ has a specific meaning that “opportunity” does not.”
Public comments on the topic will be accepted at the Jan. 11 and 25 meetings.