July 31, 2008 in Voices

Concerns about plan aired

Auto Row proposal, reversing couplet among topics at first public hearing
By The Spokesman-Review
 

In other business

The Spokane Valley City Council voted unanimously to ask the Washington Supreme Court to decide whether Spokane County must give the city an undeveloped right of way needed to extend Appleway Boulevard east from University Road. An appellate court last week upheld a trial court ruling against the city.

Once again on Tuesday, Spokane Valley residents told city officials there’s much about the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan they don’t like.

More than 100 people attended the City Council’s first formal public hearing on the wide-ranging plan, a two-hour session at the CenterPlace Great Hall.

Most of those who spoke offered criticism.

Many of the objections were familiar, but for the first time a strong contingent turned out to protest a clause that would prohibit anyone but new-car dealers from opening a used-car lot in the area known as Auto Row.

Mike Van Dinter, a past president of the Washington State Independent Auto Dealers Association, said used-car dealers were taken by surprise.

Larry Deemer found the restriction obviously “inappropriate.” Dan Harter called it “weird” and “un-American.”

“Isn’t that kind of discrimination?” Harter asked.

“It’s certainly a good question,” Mayor Rich Munson responded.

In fact, Munson asked it himself last week. He told Harter that city employees have been directed to produce an answer.

The issue is whether the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution would be violated.

As in earlier Planning Commission hearings, there was strong opposition to the plan’s call for restoring two-way traffic on Sprague Avenue’s one-way couplet with Appleway Boulevard.

Even though there wasn’t enough time to get to the section dealing with transportation issues, residents honked a warning not to go the wrong way on the commuter-friendly Sprague-Appleway couplet.

The council continued the hearing to an undetermined date for a session devoted to transportation issues.

“From every single meeting that we’ve attended, it seems to me that the vast majority of citizens have made it very clear that transportation was the overriding factor,” David Gnotta said.

“We just don’t see the logic of spending millions of dollars undoing work that’s already done and seems to be working for the purposes that the citizens envisioned,” he said. “It does make me wonder where your priorities lie. … Is it just a case of ‘We know better?’ ”

Glen Kivett thought it would be “completely unreasonable” to give up the one-way couplet in the hope of restoring lost big-box businesses. That reminded him of a man who wears size 32 pants but “buys a bale of 40s because they’re cheap” and he hopes to grow into them.

“Them big boxes ain’t going to move back,” he said.

Ditto, said Ron Roberts, who otherwise “could endorse this plan wholly.” He said he favors change, but talk of undoing the couplet is “the most regressive thing” he’s seen the 40 years he’s lived in the Valley.

Roberts said he supported Spokane Valley’s incorporation, “but now I’m having my doubts.”

Opportunity Shopping Center owner Carlos Landa said the city “can kiss retail goodbye on Sprague Avenue” if two-way traffic isn’t restored in the couplet.

But an Appleway Boulevard property owner objected that his investment in a plan to capitalize on the one-way traffic will be wiped out by a return to two-way traffic on Sprague. He hopes to snag auto dealer customers on their way home.

As in previous hearings, Spokane Valley’s dueling dentists, Philip Rudy and Gene Hinkle, took opposite positions on the plan.

Rudy endorsed it as “an excellent plan put together by world-class consultants,” although he’d like the mass transit component to focus on a monorail instead of a light rail line.

Hinkle cautioned against the proposal to develop a city center district with a new City Hall at the defunct University City Shopping Center in conjunction with the mall owner. He contended the mall was “run into the ground” by its owner, contributing to business failures “all up and down” Sprague Avenue.

“When you dine with the devil, you’d better have a really long fork,” Hinkle said.

“What’s the matter with all this nice property right out here?” Richard Poston asked, suggesting the CenterPlace grounds as the site for a new City Hall.

Even people who like parts of the plan had quibbles.

Landa objected that nonconforming properties would have to meet the plan’s new zoning code if remodeling exceeded 20 percent of their value. The Planning Commission increased the threshold from 15 percent, but Landa said something in the neighborhood of 40 percent would be more reasonable.

A consultant for Appleway Toyota objected that the plan’s complicated and restrictive development regulations would prevent the dealership from having a building that fronts on both Sprague and Appleway.

Property owner William Berry had a similar complaint that an intricate web of rules would make one of his properties useless.

Even the Spokane Valley Fire Department expressed concerns that some of its stations would be “zoned out.”

Land-use attorney Stacy Bjordahl said the development code would be so confusing that property owners would have to hire experts to interpret it. How could anyone know what “consistent with the character of Spokane Valley” means, she asked.

Bjordahl said the proposed code is “completely plagued with inconsistencies and discrimination.” For example, she said, corner lots would be treated differently from others.

Bjordahl represented several property owners who object that the plan would “downzone” their land from commercial to residential use.

City officials have argued that a study shows there would be no loss in value, but several owners disagreed Tuesday.

Rob Nordhagen, owner of Big Boys Toys Auto Sales, wondered whether anyone in the meeting room would want to live on Appleway Boulevard.

Joe Jovanovich predicted more blight because no one would want to redevelop vacant property for residential use when it’s surrounded by incompatible uses that are grandfathered.

Jim Scott said it is “unconscionable” that the plan would devalue his property on South Evergreen Road when it is “common knowledge” that the city will have to buy some of it to widen the Appleway Boulevard right of way.

He called for the council to put the plan up to a vote of residents.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.


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