Methods to preserve Spokane Valley historical sites got some discussion time Tuesday night before the City Council.
But some council members wonder if there is a need for the city to do much more at all.
Consensus was reached, however, to bring the matter back for further study.
City staffers told council members that in order for Spokane Valley to have a municipal historic-preservation program, it would have to become a “Certified Local Government” and form a Historic Preservation Commission, which would require the adoption of an ordinance and technical support – possibly even the hiring a consultant. Property owners whose buildings meet certain criteria could then be eligible for federal and state incentives once they were included on national or local historic registers.
Once listed as a historic property, and benefitting from special tax breaks, property owners would have to agree to comply with certain standards and not alter or demolish the property without consent. If a property were to become disqualified, the owner would have to pay back past property taxes with penalties and interest.
Council Member Ed Pace expressed concern that an appointed commission would have the authority to tell a land owner what he or she could do with their property.
“What if the property owner wanted to use it for something else?” he asked.
Gloria Mantz, city development engineer, said the commission would likely try to work with the property owner to try to keep the historic designation intact. If that didn’t happen, punitive measures would be enforced.
Mayor Dean Grafos said that pursuing a historic designation would be up to the property owner, who would then reap the benefits or face the consequences of any decisions made.
“That’s only fair,” he said. “It’s not a gift.”
Pace then asked “what is the benefit” of a historic-preservation program, “other than government getting bigger?”
Mantz said, besides the tax incentives, it could drive property values up in the surrounding area.
Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard said he likes the idea of historic preservation but questioned the need of “restrictive ordinances” for property owners who may one day need to sell or develop the land into something else.
“You end up with a nightmare,” he said.
He added that it might make sense to survey current owners of potential historic properties to see if they would even be interested in seeking historic status.
“It might be nobody gives a rip,” Woodard said.
Council Member Ben Wick suggested including an “opt out” clause for land owners who meet certain requirements so they wouldn’t face penalties. City staffers said they would study the issue further and bring the matter back to the council at a later date.
Grafos said the Spokane Valley should embrace its heritage and protect structures -- like the still-standing Peters Hardware building at Sprague Avenue and Pines Road or the now-demolished Plantation Restaurant at Sprague and Vista -- whenever possible.
“It gives the city a sense of place,” Grafos said. “Otherwise, all the buildings look like all the rest.”