February 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

City Hall design contract draws more criticism

Council again postpones action
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A proposed $377,000 contract to design a new Spokane Valley City Hall came under fire again Tuesday, and the City Council once more postponed action.

The contract was tabled two weeks ago after the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce urged caution in view of the fact that the city still hasn’t purchased land for the building.

The chamber has supported the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, which calls for a new City Hall in a “city center” district to be developed at the University City Shopping Center. However, chamber Chairman Philip Rudy said it would be a “bold move” to spend so much money “in these unique financial times” to design a building for a site the city doesn’t control.

City Councilwoman Rose Dempsey said two weeks ago that she supports the project, but “now is not the time to spend 377,000 more dollars on dreams.” She still thought so Tuesday and cast a lone vote against renewed discussion of the contract.

Spokane Valley residents James and Mary Pollard, who are suing the city over land-use decisions in the Greenacres area, and Steven Niell also criticized the proposed expenditure.

“We’re experiencing a dramatic recession or a full-blown depression, depending on who you’re listening to,” Niell said. “… I don’t understand why you would even consider doing this at this time.”

Niell said he hadn’t found anyone in favor of a new city hall or other aspects of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan – “or anything else that you seem hell-bent to spend our money on.”

“The money that you guys are thinking of using comes from the tax dollars of people that are losing their homes,” Mary Pollard said, calling the proposal insensitive and premature. “We don’t have the resources for frivolous spending.”

Public Works Director Neil Kersten said he would have more information in a week about possibilities for doing the work in phases. Councilman Steve Taylor still wanted to vote on his motion to approve the contract Tuesday, but Councilman Bill Gothmann withdrew his second and the issue was postponed at least a week.

The contract with the Bernardo-Wills and GGLO architectural firms would provide “schematic design services” that would show how the new municipal building might look inside and out and how much it might cost. It would not provide detailed constructions plans, which could cost 8 to 10 percent of the estimated $14.1 million cost of the building, not counting various fees, sales tax, or a 5 percent contingency allowance.

The council authorized up to $75,000 of site-planning work last summer and got a recommendation to build a 55,000- to 60,000-square-foot, three-story building on a three-acre parcel at University City.

In other business Tuesday, the council decided – over objections from Mayor Rich Munson and Councilwoman Diana Wilhite – to stick with a controversial portion of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan that saddles some property owners with “preplanned” streets.

Where the plan calls for new streets to improve traffic flow, property owners would be prohibited from using their land for other purposes and the city would be under no obligation to buy it.

In some cases, the planned streets would be on top of existing buildings, but the plan generally wouldn’t kick in until a property is redeveloped. If a project involved five or more acres, the developer could be required to build the designated street. Otherwise, the project would have to work around the unbuilt street.

Senior planner Scott Kuhta, the Sprague-Appleway plan manager, said some new streets are needed on the south side of Appleway Boulevard, which is to be extended eastward, as a hedge against a possible light rail line. If a commuter railway were built along the south side of Appleway, driveways would have to be sealed off and alternate access would be needed, Kuhta said.

Wilhite and Munson wanted assurances that city officials would have flexibility in enforcing any set-aside for future streets. Kuhta said city officials would have discretion only to shift a street a little one way or another to accommodate a project.

“If you want to build flexibility into this, you’re going to have to change the code,” City Attorney Mike Connelly advised.

Wilhite said she thought the city should allow developers to go ahead with their projects if the city wasn’t prepared to build a planned street.

“I can’t predict the future, and I take my chances,” Wilhite said.

Councilman Dick Denenny thought that would compound the city’s current traffic-flow problem. Taylor said the city’s need for connecting streets trumps private property rights.

Gothmann said a future council could deal with any “hiccups,” but he saw none now.

“There’s got to be some room for negotiation and there’s got to be some room for common sense,” Munson said.

He abandoned the issue of flexible enforcement when a straw poll showed only Wilhite agreed with him.

“We tried,” Munson said.

Then he questioned the need to designate new connecting streets east of Evergreen Road, given that 2020 is “the most realistic horizon” for extending Appleway Boulevard to Evergreen.

“If we’re looking at 30 to 40 years from now, do we need to ‘preplan’ these streets?” Munson asked.

Yes, Taylor and Gothmann answered. And they thought the Appleway extension could come much sooner.

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


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