May 21, 2009 in Washington Voices

Lark free from revitalization plan

Work begins on plans for snow-plowing program
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Perseverance paid off Tuesday for some of the staunchest critics of Spokane Valley’s proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

Among other last-minute changes, the City Council agreed to remove Susan and Jim Scott’s Lark Inc. business at 205 S. Evergreen Road, from the plan.

Auto dealers and the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce got some of their requests for changes in the plan.

Also Tuesday, the council told Public Works Director Neil Kersten to try to piece together a snow-plowing program this winter with surplus sander trucks from the state Department of Transportation, an abandoned Waste Management Inc. maintenance yard and labor from the city’s summertime street-patching contractor, Poe Asphalt.

“A lot of things would have to come together” for the plan to work, and it “isn’t going to happen” without the sander trucks and the maintenance yard, Kersten warned. He said he hadn’t confirmed the availability of either.

Council members worried that such a slap-dash approach might be detrimental to the city’s efforts to develop a long-term solution to Spokane County’s decision to cancel its contract to provide snow removal.

City officials hope a private contractor will take over the work, but Kersten said he hasn’t found any other city that relies entirely on contractors for snow removal.

The city has hired a team of consultants, led by former Spokane County Engineer Ross Kelley, to craft a request for proposals from companies interested in taking over the contract. A preliminary request for expressions of interest is expected to be issued late next week.

“In the best of all worlds we would simply be working on a long-term plan that would serve the best interests of the citizens of this community,” City Manager Dave Mercier said.

He said he would prefer not to force contractors to work with a maintenance facility or other arrangements necessary to get through the coming winter.

But Mayor Rich Munson felt it was “highly unlikely” county commissioners would extend the plowing contract for another season. Commissioners have said they’ll consider an extension if the city can’t find an alternative despite diligent efforts.

Munson said Commissioner Mark Richard, whose district includes Spokane Valley, recently urged city officials to strive for a “useable solution,” not “the perfect solution.”

Councilman Steve Taylor said plan is needed soon or “perhaps a certain county commissioner won’t be able to drive to work in the morning from the Valley because the roads aren’t plowed.”

Kersten said he expects to know by June 3, when the council and county commissioners are to meet, whether the state surplus sander trucks are available, but not whether the Waste Management facility can be leased.

If the trucks are available, they probably would cost $12,000 to $20,000 apiece, and the city would need a half-dozen of them, Kersten said.

He said state officials told him they don’t have any maintenance facilities the city might use this winter.

The approximately two-acre Waste Management maintenance yard at 11720 E. First Ave. is about the right size and conveniently located, Kersten said. The yard – including a three-bay repair garage, a fuel depot and a small office – is behind the post office that’s across Sprague Avenue from City Hall.

In the council’s final deliberative session on the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, which is tentatively scheduled for final action on June 16, Munson led the decision to remove the Lark Inc. boat-dock manufacturing and mini-storage property.

The council had voted 4-3 on Dec. 16 – with council members Diana Wilhite, Rose Dempsey and Gary Schimmels dissenting – to keep Lark in the plan boundary. Munson said Tuesday that a Dec. 12 letter persuaded him to change his mind.

Owners Jim and Susan Scott said in the letter that allowing their land to keep its “community commercial” zoning wouldn’t create an “island” in the Sprague-Appleway plan’s proposed “residential boulevard” zone as Councilman Dick Denenny had stated. The Scotts said existing multifamily zoning and topography would buffer their property, which is eight feet above grade at the corner of Third Avenue and Evergreen Road.

“I honestly believe they have made a case,” Munson said Tuesday.

Denenny said the chances of the area being redeveloped as planned “have become increasingly slim,” and the likely delay “lends itself to giving some certainty to the property owners.” He alluded to growing pessimism that county commissioners will turn over land needed to extend Appleway Boulevard east to Evergreen Road and, eventually, to Sullivan Road.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said Munson’s and Denenny’s arguments had “a great deal of power.” Only Taylor refused to reverse himself.

Munson said the about-face had nothing to do with “the rhetoric.”

Susan Scott became one of the city’s most outspoken critics and has been a fixture at Planning Commission and City Council meetings. She and her husband helped form a group called Friends of Spokane Valley to fight the Sprague-Appleway plan’s call for replacing commercial zoning with residential and office uses.

The Scotts also threatened to sue if their property were “down-zoned.”

“I’m grateful for the council’s decision tonight,” Scott said Tuesday.

At Gothmann’s suggestion, the council asked the city staff to come up with a new name for the “residential boulevard” zone to reflect the fact that it allows other uses, such as offices.

In other adjustments to the plan, the council agreed to double the one-year period in which grandfathered businesses may remain vacant without having to conform to new zoning regulations. The Greater Spokane Chamber of Commerce had requested a three-year window.

Auto dealers also got only part of what they wanted.

The council agreed to add a large area, south of Sprague Avenue between Park and Vista Roads, to an adjoining “gateway commercial center” zone. The change allows more room for a proposed auto-themed entertainment district.

However, the council refused auto dealers’ request to relax sign standards. With Dempsey dissenting, council members found the regulations reasonable and thought automakers would comply as they have in Liberty Lake and elsewhere.

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


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