Spokane Valley residents will get one last chance April 28 to comment on plans to transform the Sprague-Appleway corridor from a gap-toothed, six-mile strip mall to a collection of cozy enclaves.
To achieve a more vibrant community in which people amble among interesting new shops, the plan calls for reducing the number of traffic lanes on Sprague Avenue. Landscaping would separate sidewalks from traffic, and parking lots would be hidden behind buildings.
“Form-based” zoning would emphasize appearance, relying more on examples than the tightly drawn rules of traditional zoning.
Residential development would be encouraged along Appleway Boulevard, which is to be extended east from its current dead-end at University Road.
The plan has the support of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Valley Business Association.
Originally, the plan called for two-way traffic on the one-way Sprague-Appleway couplet between the Sprague exit of Interstate 90 and University Road. Although championed by business owners along Sprague, that idea proved wildly unpopular with motorists.
Many business owners blamed the one-way couplet, established in 2000 by Spokane County, for drying up business on Sprague. But they were overwhelmed at public hearings in which scores of angry commuters defended the couplet.
Auto dealers in the proposed “Gateway” district between the Sprague exit and Argonne Road dodged the oncoming commuters, declaring themselves indifferent about the direction of traffic. Then the City Council tried to get itself out of traffic by leaving the couplet untouched between I-90 and Dishman-Mica Road, where most commuters branch off.
The compromise seemed to soothe the road rage, but other challenges emerged.
One of the thornier questions was how much grandfathered protection to allow uses that wouldn’t fit the new zoning. The answer: the new zoning would be enforced if a renovation added more than 20 percent to a building’s floor area. Standards for exterior appearance would apply if a renovation cost more than 20 percent of the assessed or appraised value of the building and land.
Still unresolved is whether to implement the plan in areas where Appleway Boulevard hasn’t been built. Mayor Rich Munson and Councilwoman Diana Wilhite said last month they were pessimistic about acquiring the Appleway right-of-way from Spokane County. It would be unfair to impose development regulations based on a road that may never be built, Wilhite suggested.
Munson wanted to see whether a proposed city center district works before implementing the plan east of University Road.
Councilman Steve Taylor disagreed, contending other areas could benefit independently. He and Councilman Bill Gothmann also noted the plan strives to make the city center work by restricting uses elsewhere. For example, fancy restaurants would be steered to the city center.
‘Where the action is’
Spokane Valley had barely been incorporated in 2003 when the City Council began talking about a city center.
At the time, City Manager Dave Mercier predicted a steadily widening gap between municipal expenses and revenues; the City Council hoped to stimulate the city’s tax base. The council agreed to pay consultants up to $650,000 to flesh out the revitalization proposal, and added a plan manager to the city staff.
By September 2004, a team of consultants was proposing a district of shoulder-to-shoulder “lifestyle” businesses such as bookstores and coffee shops. It would be the “most urban and lively” place in Spokane Valley, the place “where the action is.”
The district’s core would be at what is now the University City Shopping Center at Sprague Avenue and University Road.
City officials are negotiating the purchase of five to nine acres of U-City’s 35 acres for construction of a new city hall. The city hall is to be an anchor for the proposed development, as a new library also was to have been.
Consultant Michael Freedman said the library was “absolutely critical,” but voters refused to pay for it in March 2008. Some voters said they didn’t want to encourage the revitalization plan.
Some, like former store operator Joan Christensen, also objected that University City’s owners are to be in charge of selecting a developer for the city center. They blamed mismanagement for the fact that the mall is a boarded-up shell of its former self.
“When you dine with the devil, you’d better have a really long fork,” dentist Gene Hinkle warned.
The City Council voted in September 2007 to negotiate with Coeur d’Alene-based University City Inc. after rejecting a Spokane Valley family’s offer to sell 8.4 acres on the other side of Sprague Avenue for a new city hall and other public buildings. That site is next to an existing city park and the Spokane Valley Fire Department headquarters. Consultants said the city center project needed at least 20 acres.
Business properties devalued?
Business owner Susan Scott saw the Sprague-Appleway plan as a way for the city to help some businesses at the expense of others, including Lark Inc., a boat dock-manufacturing and mini-storage business she and her husband, James Scott, operate along the undeveloped Appleway Boulevard right of way just east of Evergreen Road.
The revitalization plan envisions a residential boulevard on that abandoned railroad right of way. The Scotts and others believe their property would be devalued by the proposed shift from commercial to residential zoning.
The revitalization plan extends three miles east from the city center district, to a point just beyond Sullivan Road. Originally, it extended a half-mile farther, to Conklin Road.
The City Council voted to trim the plan back to Sullivan Road, but not soon enough to keep Dean and Elizabeth Grafos – who operate a mini-storage business at the corner of Sprague and Conklin – from pushing to disincorporate the city. Like the Scotts, the Grafoses helped form an organization called Friends of Spokane Valley to oppose the Sprague-Appleway plan.
In addition to zoning restrictions, the Grafoses objected to two “preplanned” streets the plan called for on their property.
Similar streets are penciled in throughout the revitalization area, and owners would be required to build the streets or at least set aside land for them if they redevelop their property. The goal is to improve traffic circulation in areas where there are few cross streets.