The City Council voted Tuesday to give portions of two streets to a Sprague Avenue car dealership, turning down a suggestion by public works officials that would trade land for another cross-street on the couplet.
The Appleway automotive group and Gus Johnson Ford asked the city to vacate about 1,000 feet of First Avenue and Sipple Road between Sprague and Appleway Boulevard to make way for new buildings and remodeling plans.
“The public, in a proper context, does not use that road unless they are going to either one of those businesses,” Councilman Gary Schimmels said before the 5-to-1 vote.
Where it meets up with Sprague, Sipple is narrow, 265 feet long and faced by garage entrances on either side.
First Avenue is wider and will dead-end at Sargent Road when the transfer is complete.
The city’s Public Works Department advised that First Avenue be turned over only if the businesses preserved land to make Sipple a through street, referencing part of the city’s comprehensive plan that calls for shorter blocks to improve circulation.
The dealerships disapproved of that idea, and Appleway Toyota threatened to take its business elsewhere if it were not able to expand.
After a public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended that both streets be turned over. The commission’s findings state that the public already uses Vista and Sargent roads for cross traffic, that the vacated streets were no longer required for public use and that that the vacation would create a financial benefit.
For the most part the council agreed, although there was discussion on whether the city should charge some or all of the land’s estimated value as allowed by state law.
An analysis of the assessed value of property nearby pegged the land’s worth at about $10.24 per square foot, about $540,000 for both streets.
Before casting the only dissenting vote on the measure Mayor Diana Wilhite argued the city should charge something for the land, even if it is less than 50 percent of its assessed value.
“I wish that I were a business and that I could get free land from the city, too. I’d be thrilled,” she said.
A majority on the council saw it differently.
“I would defy somebody to find a buyer for this,” challenged Councilman Dick Denenny, who disagreed with establishing a dollar amount for pieces of public land that are only valuable to the people asking the city to vacate them.
“There are so few things that this council can do to help maintain and keep our existing businesses, and this is one of them,” Councilman Mike DeVleming said.
Car dealers contribute greatly to the city’s sales tax revenues, and in recent years the council has worked to cater to the industry’s unique needs, authorizing a special land-use plan for Sprague’s “auto-row.”
DeVleming even starred in a Gus Johnson Ford TV commercial a couple of years ago, although he was not identified by name.
Dealerships are also consistent campaign donors, giving more than $3,000 to council members’ election funds since 2002, based on data from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.
At an earlier meeting, Councilman Bill Gothmann suggested that a decision on the street vacation be delayed until the council gets more information on plans for Sprague and Appleway. He also argued in favor making Sipple a through street, but changed his mind during the course of discussion Tuesday.