For nearly two hours Tuesday night, round 1 of the debate over a potential city center at Sprague and Appleway reached the epic proportions of an Ali/Frazier bout.
With the public who spoke nearly evenly split on the issue, the pros and cons of a bustling hub of commercial and high-density housing -- and specific zoning requirements designed to jump start the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan – got a full airing before the council took its vote.
On one side, supporters said a city center on Sprague – even without a library or city hall -- would provide the heart of the fledging city of Spokane Valley. Others declared Sprague is best served as an off-freeway business route and that a new opportunity for a town hub exists at the ever-growing Mirabeau Point near CenterPlace.
Still, in a 4-2 vote, the council voted to advance an “emergency ordinance” that would switch out the city center designation for mixed use between Walnut and Bowdish roads and between Main and Fourth Avenues. The issue now goes for a final decision next Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague. Public comments will again be taken.
Council Member Bill Gothmann again offered a compromise solution that would have reduced the rezone west of Balfour Road in order to accommodate the potential development of a used car lot to be developed on land owned by Jack Pring, which has prompted the council action. The idea, he said, is to allow other business owners and community members to weigh in on the issue before comprehensive plan amendments are made this spring.
“I’d encourage us to go this direction to solve the problem,”
Gothmann said, adding that he “didn’t want to end up in court.” The city Planning Commission has refused to endorse the emergency ordinance after it was assigned the job to study the proposal late last year.
Gothmann’s amended motion was supported by Council Member Rose Dempsey.
“This is a very nice way to go about this and get it before the public,” she said. “The rest of city center can be taken care of in due process.”
However, a similar request by Gothmann was rebuffed by the majority of the council on Jan. 4. Tuesday night, the result was no different.
“I believe the issue is larger than Mr. Pring’s property,” said Council Member Dean Grafos. “The city center zoning doesn’t help the business owners (in that area).”
Grafos and other council members elected in November 2009 as part of a “Positive Change” campaign – Council Member Bob McCaslin, who was also elected at that time, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting – contend that the restrictive requirements incorporated into the city center zone make it difficult for existing businesses to expand or for new developments to locate there, especially during the current slow economic times.
By removing the current zoning and replacing it with the more relaxed mixed-use zone, he said, it allows for more opportunities for development, of which Pring’s land would just be the start.
“This California plan, with its hundreds of impediments to reasonable redevelopment…has neutralized the greatest strengths of this area, a business route with its large parcels of development land,” Grafos said. He added it’s why Sprague is ideal for businesses like Target, Home Depot or Fred Meyer.
Dick Behm, speaking on behalf of the Spokane Valley Business Association, supported Gothmann’s compromise, saying he would rally the SVBA to involve affected business and property owners to see what their wishes are.
The Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce has not taken an official stance on the emergency ordinance; however chamber CEO Eldonna Shaw was present at the meeting and beforehand circulated an e-mail containing a letter drafted by John Carroll, a Planning Commission member who has been critical of the council’s action.
“Do you want a used car lot or a city center?” Carroll asked.
Others said Gothmann offered a good solution to a contentious topic.
“I would support the amendment,” said Diana Wilhite, a former Spokane Valley mayor and council member who helped craft the city center designation. “It will give you more information.”
But before the majority of the council struck down Gothmann’s amendment, Mayor Tom Towey said the “emergency” affected the entire city center.
“This is not about one parcel,” he said, adding it’s time for government to “get out of the way” of development on Sprague.
Gothmann said he feared litigation if the council continues down the path it’s headed.
“I regret that I know this thing will end up in the courts,” he said.