Street projects come first, Valley Council says
Revitalization plan to include restrictions on building
Spokane Valley property owners should be prohibited from building on land the city wants for future streets, the City Council said Tuesday.
Council members expressed concern about reducing property values and tying up land without paying for it, but ultimately decided the city’s need for more cross streets justifies that provision of the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.
The unanimous consensus moves the proposal forward, but no final action is planned until after a public hearing. Council members agreed Tuesday that they need at least one more deliberative session before releasing a final draft and scheduling a hearing.
Also Tuesday, the council massaged proposed sign regulations and adopted a strategy that could allow more commercial development on Appleway Boulevard, where the plan calls for residential development.
And Mayor Rich Munson publicly apologized for heated remarks he made about Spokane County commissioners during last week’s meeting.
Munson said last week that he thought it was “arbitrary,” “capricious” and “not prudent” of commissioners to ask state officials to eliminate one of the county’s District Court judgeships on the basis of the city’s decision to study its contract for District Court services. The City Council voted to give a contract cancellation notice to preserve its right, under state law, to set up its own court in 2011 instead of 2015.
The council is happy with the court contract, but is reacting to commissioners’ decision in December to cancel the city’s contract for snowplowing service next fall.
“I want to publicly apologize to the commissioners if they thought I was being overly harsh,” Munson said. “That was not my intent.”
He said the City Council is “working very hard” to repair its strained relationship with commissioners, and he “had no intention of making the situation worse when I said those things.”
Council members were wary of exercising their own power to tie up private land for the public good.
The Sprague-Appleway zoning plan calls for numerous new streets, especially new north-south streets, to improve traffic flow. Property owners generally would be prohibited from putting new buildings on land designated for future streets.
Although conditions might not warrant construction of the streets right away, city officials want to make sure they don’t have to pay for buildings as well as land when they eventually build the proposed streets.
Noting the plan calls for cross streets roughly every 660 feet, or two blocks, Munson called for flexibility in case one of the proposed streets would thwart a large project such as WinCo Food’s plan to open a new supermarket this spring in the old Home Base store at Sprague and Farr.
City Attorney Mike Connelly said the “prelocated” streets could be altered, “but the more altering you do, the less grid you’re going to get.” He said the purpose of designating future streets in the plan is to give “reasonable notice that this is the grid pattern we’re trying to achieve.”
Councilman Dick Denenny wondered whether so-called “future acquisition areas” should be dissolved if a property owner comes up with conflicting development plans before the city is ready to acquire the land.
“Either you put a few things in place that will move development toward an organized grid system with some connectivity in this area or you don’t,” Connelly said. “If you’re always going to allow the developer needs to trump street location, then you probably shouldn’t have these (street acquisition areas).”
Councilman Steve Taylor worried about taking property value from owners, but Connelly said all zoning actions affect property values.
“That’s been permissible since 1926,” Connelly said. “What you have to do is, you have to leave an economically viable use.”
Taylor didn’t require a lot of persuasion.
“I don’t think anybody could make the argument that we have too many streets here in Spokane Valley,” Taylor said. “…Building roads is so important to the development of our community.”
Senior planner Scott Kuhta, the Sprague-Appleway plan manager, said the proposed new cross streets would benefit businesses by creating more frontage for buildings.
However, the plan also aims to reduce commercial frontage by encouraging residential development along both sides of Appleway Boulevard. Kuhta said that goal could be undone by a previous council consensus to allow existing uses along Sprague to expand southward to Appleway on properties split between two zones.
Taylor and Councilwoman Diana Wilhite said they thought residential development along the north side of Appleway, back to back with commercial uses, was unlikely anyway. Also, Wilhite said, people probably won’t want housing underneath the high-tension electric lines that run along the north side of Appleway.
Gothmann objected. One of the plan’s primary purposes is to reduce the city’s glut of commercial property, he said.
In the end, the council compromised on Munson’s suggestion to protect residential uses on Appleway by requiring commercial expansions to be screened from view.
John Craig may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.