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Revitalization plan criticized

Small business owners upset over plans to leave I-90-to-Dishman stretch untouched

Once again, Spokane Valley residents have told the City Council they don’t like the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

They especially don’t like the part that would restore two-way traffic on part of the Sprague-Appleway couplet.

About 140 people attended a final public hearing on the plan Tuesday at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center. Of 25 who spoke, four – representing business groups – supported the plan.

About a third of the speakers objected to any change in the one-way couplet between the Sprague exit on Interstate 90 and University Road. They weren’t satisfied that the council had already decided to leave the couplet untouched between I-90 and Dishman-Mica Road, where most of the commuter traffic occurs.

Tuesday’s testimony was similar to that in three previous public hearings by the City Council and a two-session hearing by the Planning Commission.

Many of the critics Tuesday were small-business operators and property owners who felt the plan would help other business people at their expense.

Joe Jovanovich, general manager of Walt’s Mailing Service, called it a communist-style plan whose lack of “liberty and justice for all” left him “heartbroken and disappointed.”

Green Thumb Nursery owner Nancy Nishimura said she felt “disenfranchised” by the plan. It shows “callous disregard” for existing businesses, she said.

“In the end, I feel like a fool paying my taxes to the city” when city officials propose a zoning code that would make her business a nonconforming use, Nishimura said. She objected to the plan’s goal of establishing a city center district at the University City Shopping Center by restricting commercial uses elsewhere.

“Such vast change” shouldn’t occur unless citizens approve it in an election, Julie Lehman and others said.

Business owners Dean Grafos and Susan Scott also objected to “down-zoning” in which commercial zoning would be replaced with residential zoning in many areas.

Scott provoked a heated reaction from Mayor Rich Munson when she said her boat-dock manufacturing and mini-storage business would be “legally euthanized” and that it was “a small detail according to your planner in charge of the SARP” that the Sprague-Appleway plan isn’t consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Mrs. Scott, you’re getting close to being asked to sit down,” said Munson, who had warned speakers to be civil and refrain from personal attacks.

The audience erupted in protest.

“Come on,” several shouted.

“Let her speak,” said a man whose voice rose above others as Munson slammed his gavel.

“Please proceed,” Munson told Scott.

The plan would do more to promote development in Post Falls than in the Spokane Valley, Scott continued. It would “do more to revitalize the legal community than the corridor.”

“Scrap it and cut your losses,” she suggested.

When the audience applauded Scott, Munson snapped that “we’ll take that time off of Mr. Giles,” the next speaker.

“I’m not too windy tonight, so it doesn’t matter if I lost a little time,” Jim Giles said.

He worried that changing the traffic flow on the couplet would create dangerous confusion, and that “it’s hard enough to pay for what we’ve got.”

He was one of several people who fretted about the cost of implementing the plan. But Mike King, chairman-elect of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, said most of the financial burden would be borne by developers, not taxpayers.

The plan would increase property values by gradually replacing “worn-out” buildings and filling vacant land, King said.

Chamber Chairman Philip Rudy praised the City Council for listening to constituents and making changes in the plan before Tuesday’s final hearing. He said the changes included reducing the number of new streets in the plan and allowing flexibility about where to build them.

Rudy and King said the chamber now recommends an extension in the time a building may be vacant without having to comply with the new zoning and architectural standards. The plan would keep the one-year limit that currently applies throughout the city, but the chamber wants a three-year limit in the Sprague-Appleway plan area, between I-90 and Sullivan Road.

The one-year limit poses a “particular hardship” for buildings designed for a single use, such as a restaurant, Rudy said.

The Spokane Valley Business Association is “very supportive” of the plan, President Terry Lynch said. He said restoring two-way traffic on Sprague Avenue between Argonne and University roads would correct a “great injustice.”

Lynch cited an association-commissioned study that showed many businesses were harmed by creation of the one-way couplet in 2000.

Speaking for dealerships in the Auto Row area between I-90 and Argonne Road, consultant Sean Lumsden called for a provision to help dealers respond to the signage requirements of their franchises.

Jim Nelson, who owns a photography studio near Appleway Boulevard and Farr Road, said he would prefer to tighten up sign restrictions. Just don’t tamper with the Sprague-Appleway couplet, he said.

Several people found it a bad idea to implement the plan during a major recession. Still others thought spending up to $650,000 to develop the plan was wasteful.

The city doesn’t seem to have money to patch the cracks in McDonald Road, Duke Vierth complained. How will residents pay for a new $200 million sewage treatment plant, Jack Riley wondered.

“With everything going broke, we don’t need a new city hall and everything else (in the plan),” Dean Davenport said.

Anyway, some said, the plan is likely to fail.

“Spokane Valley is never going to be San Francisco or whatever you want it to be,” Tony Lazanis said. “We don’t have that kind of money.”

Several people said they’re happy with the community as it is.

As Mary Pollard put it, the plan is “like playing a symphony for a community that only likes bluegrass.”

John Craig may be contacted at