Whitley Fuel can rebuild a warehouse at its central depot that an arson fire destroyed last year, Spokane’s hearing examiner ruled Tuesday.
The decision overturns a determination by the city’s planning director, who had blocked construction of a new building because he deemed it part of a prohibited “high impact use” of the land under city zoning rules. The warehouse, at 2733 N. Pittsburg St., would store lubricants that are “not flammable products” less than 300 feet from the nearest homes, according to the decision.
Under city ordinances, high-impact uses must be 600 feet from residential areas. But hearing examiner Greg Smith decided that while large fuel tanks located on the south end of the property across a parking lot – where they were not destroyed in the fire – are high-impact, the warehouse is not.
Lubricants that would be stored there for later retail distribution have a “flash point” – the temperature when they produce vapors that will catch fire when exposed to flame – of 200 degrees or more. Fuel oil in the tanks has a flash point of less than half that temperature, according to the decision.
The tanks are allowed to stay as an existing, nonconforming use of the land.
The July 23, 2007, fire caused $20 million in damages to the depot and nearby businesses.
Police arrested a man suspected of starting the blaze by setting off fireworks but later released him. The case remains under investigation, said Brian Schaeffer, assistant fire chief.
Okanogan-based B & J Enterprises LLC, a related company that owns the land, earlier this month appealed the decision by Planning Director Leroy Eadie, who argued the entire site was a high-impact use and could not be reconstructed. It still must receive a building permit.
Whitley Fuel has not decided how large to make the new structure, which it hopes to build before winter, co-owner Brian Whitley said. He estimated the old building measured 6,000 square feet.
“It may be a little larger,” he said. “It just depends on the best fit for the property.”
With its warehouse decimated, the company stored products at an off-site rental facility.
“It’s cost us a lot of time and effort to do the same amount of work,” Whitley said.
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