May 22, 2008 in Business

Mayor gets mixed input on mixed-use

By The Spokesman-Review
 

To drive more growth to central areas of Spokane, the city needs revised regulations, positive examples of infill and public education about density, developers and other panelists told Mayor Mary Verner on Wednesday morning.

Spokane’s comprehensive plan lays out guidelines for 21 mixed-use “centers and corridors,” where the city envisions funneling construction and redevelopment to accommodate growth while limiting sprawl.

“We recognize that it’s just simply cheaper to serve our downtown, our concentrated neighborhoods and our concentrated business centers,” Verner said. “At the very least, you can drive less than you do now.”

The city has offered incentives and seen success in some centers, such as the South Perry business district, Verner said.

“Although here in Spokane we’re known for being rather casual and friendly, on this issue we’re rather impatient,” Verner said. “Our citizens spent a long time developing the comp plan. It was adopted in 2001, and we’re about ready to see the results.”

The televised City Hall forum aimed to explore whether the city’s strategy is working, she said.

Developers’ response: Not so much.

Jim Frank, owner of Liberty Lake-based Greenstone Homes, said the city’s “regulatory framework” and attitude toward developers must be overhauled, and public investment is critical to help spur private outlays. It’s still risky for the private sector to be involved, he said.

“It takes time to build up the skills within the government and within the private sector to understand how to do this,” Frank said. “(Residents) think mostly the results are going to be negative, and in the past maybe a lot of the results have been negative.”

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, described a “formula for successful urbanity,” which he said includes density, a mix of uses, good design and alternative transportation choices. The city might start by revising its parking regulations, he said.

The areas are designed to accommodate population growth of roughly 12,000, said Melissa Wittstruck-Eadie, a city planner. They are intended to be walkable, with shopping, services and recreation opportunities within a quarter-mile, she said.

“You’re going in the right direction,” Price said, but called the population goal “not a lot.”

Density doesn’t always mean constructing tall buildings, he said in response to an audience question.

Frank agreed, saying, “We have a hard time doing townhouses in this town, much less doing high-rises.”

Panelists also emphasized concentrating city money where it would be most effective, rather than spreading it around.

Gail Prosser, a Rockwood Neighborhood resident who lives near a center, said she initially was “very frightened” by the idea of density but has warmed to it. She suggested infill incentives in traffic impact fees the City Council is expected to consider.

The city later this year will look to update its centers and corridors regulations, said Leroy Eadie, director of the Planning Services Department.


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