With emotions running high, a crowd to rival McCarthey Athletic Center on a Zags game night and a short bench, the Spokane Valley City Council declared “game over” on a proposed city center Tuesday night.
After nearly two hours of testimony – much of it echoing arguments heard a week earlier – the council voted 4-1 to move forward with an emergency comprehensive plan amendment that sliced the city center zone designation from the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan and replaced it with a broader mixed-use application.
Since the matter was first brought before the council, one member – Rose Dempsey – has quit. Another, Bob McCaslin, is recovering from surgery after the removal of his right leg.
Although proponents of the city center zone – which encompassed the area between Walnut and Bowdish roads and between Main and Fourth avenues – argued for a high-density retail and housing hub at the geographic heart of Spokane Valley, others called the idea of “cutesy boutique shops” and a walkable downtown core pie-in-the-sky thinking during these tough economic times.
“At the end of the day, this is about property rights,” said Council Member Brenda Grassel, who voted with colleagues Dean Grafos, Gary Schimmels and Mayor Tom Towey to pass the emergency amendment.
Bill Gothmann, the only dissenter, said that it is up to government to shape what types of uses go where.
“Zoning, by definition, is a restriction of property rights,” he said.
The council’s decision now paves the way for a potential used car lot near the University City property. Last week, Gothmann proposed a compromise that would have allowed for that land to fall into the mixed-use category to allow for the development, but that idea was flatly rejected by the council.
The following day, Jan. 19, Dempsey, announced her resignation from the council.
“I realized there is never going to be any consensus on the council,” she said at the time.
Perhaps sensing after Jan. 18’s 4-2 vote (with Dempsey joining Gothmann) that the die has been cast, proponents of the city center plan were outnumbered 11-8 at the podium. There were few new faces, however, as most of the supporters of the amendment have previously been critical of SARP as a whole.
Craig Eggleston, who has served on the city’s Planning Commission, said a city survey conducted in 2004 showed that citizens overwhelmingly (84 percent) favored a city center at the former University City location.
“These are your neighbors,” Eggleston said, adding that support to locate a city center to Mirabeau Point was only 18 percent. “They don’t want city center on the river.”
He suggested that the city should conduct another scientific survey to see what the public would support.
Grassel argued, however, that the Clearwater survey conducted shortly after city incorporation was “deceptive” because it did not include the entire scope of what was eventually approved.
“I don’t have a problem with doing another survey,” she said, “as long as you consider the rights of property owners.”
The council also was briefed by City Manager Mike Jackson on the process that can be followed to replace Dempsey on the council. A final decision must be made by April 20 or the authority for the appointment would transfer to Spokane County commissioners.
A motion to approve the process is expected at next Tuesday’s meeting. After that, applications may be accepted by the city clerk with March 4 as the tentative cut-off date. After that, applications will be reviewed by council members with a final appointment scheduled for March 29.