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Council tackles zoning

Land-use changes proposed for several sites

The Spokane Valley City Council got its first look at this year’s proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments Tuesday and, as expected, they generated a discussion on what things should be in the plan and what items shouldn’t be.

There are three proposed site specific plan amendments, one requested by a citizen and two initiated by the city. The two proposed by the city are to correct mapping errors. The rest of the proposed amendments are modifications to update maps or other information and include policy language.

The proposed amendment requested by a citizen involves a parcel of land at the northeast corner of Park Road and Broadway Avenue next to the Park Road Pool. The large parcel is mostly vacant land and has one home on it. It is currently zoned low-density residential and the owner, the estate of Joe and Ida Gaurisco, would like it changed to neighborhood commercial. Most of the surrounding land is zoned low-density residential except for a small area zoned neighborhood commercial on the southeast corner of the intersection and the heavy industrial zoning that comes up to the southwest corner of the intersection.

Councilwoman Rose Dempsey pointed out that there would be a house sandwiched between the parcel and Centennial Middle School, essentially making the home an island. “There’s nothing we can do about it, is there?” she said.

Senior Planner Mike Basinger said there would be buffering requirements on the parcel once it is developed.

Councilman Bill Gothmann expressed concern that the parcel is the same one the city is interested in buying for park land. Earlier this year the council instructed its lobbyist to request funding from the state to buy the land for a park, but no money was available. Toward the end of the meeting Gothmann recommended the council discuss buying the property again at a council meeting in the near future.

“We have an opportunity here to purchase a plot of land for a park,” he said. “The people who own that land are willing to sell it to us. It’s an opportunity that we’re going to lose soon.”

The city is requesting that a parcel of land on the west side of Sullivan Road immediately to the north of Sullivan Park owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation be changed from park/open space to heavy industrial to match the surrounding land, said Basinger. “DOT has used it as a gravel pit,” he said.

The third parcel up for a zoning change is a strip of land owned by Crown West Realty to the east of Sullivan Road in the Industrial Park. It was mistakenly zoned community commercial instead of heavy industrial. The land is inside the boundaries of the Industrial Park.

The rest of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments would insert policy language to do things like support acquiring open space, increase the miles of bike lanes in the city and support water conservation. Other language would supplement existing city goals to protect the aquifer and support local businesses.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel questioned why policy statements would be included in the Comprehensive Plan. “Are these required that we put those in somewhere?” she said.

Basinger said the Comprehensive Plan is a 20-year plan for the city. “It sets the policy direction the city would like to go in,” he said. The language is also trying to match the city’s policies with state and federal regulations.

“I’m just trying to understand,” Grassel said. “If it’s not a requirement by the state, why put this language there?”

Grassel said it is not the city’s place to set policies such as living wages. She was referring to a sentence including that phrase in a summary of a proposed text amendment. The actual amendment, however, is just adding language to “promote opportunities that employ Spokane Valley residents in Spokane Valley” and “encourage development of and participation in a ‘buy local’ campaign.”

“They are policies, not regulations,” Basinger said. “These are totally subject to council consideration.”

Grassel asked if the policy language would help the city get grants and Basinger said it would. Grassel then recommended striking all language from the proposed amendments that has nothing to do with zoning or property rights.

Dempsey said she saw no problem with the policy additions. “I don’t see anything in these various things that is mandatory,” she said. “It just encourages people that this is a good way to go.”

Mayor Tom Towey said he agreed that the city should not be setting policies on living wages, but saw no problem with the proposed amendment. “The language is very generic,” he said. “I don’t think we’re getting into that realm of suggesting a living wage.”

Gothmann referred to a recent City Council vote where a proposed development code amendment was killed before the second reading because the majority of the council members disagreed with a specific part of it. He urged the council to let the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments go through all three steps before deciding what to change or eliminate. “We have the opportunity to change it” after the three touches, he said. “In fact, that’s our job.”

The council meeting ended with some verbal sparring as Dempsey objected to Towey’s and Councilman Gary Schimmels’ decision to eliminate the dinners for council members and city staff before each council meeting. She said the practice was instituted by a vote of the council and should have been eliminated by a vote of the council. “This decision should not have come suddenly and arbitrarily from a back room,” she said.

Gothmann expressed similar feelings. “I was expecting a discussion,” he said. “Council decisions should be made in an open meeting.”

Towey said he was told by city staff that he could make the change without a vote. “I was told there was no need for it.”

Grassel said she also wanted a discussion on the subject, partially to explore open public meeting issues, and Councilman Dean Grafos said that the outcome would still be the same even if a vote was taken.

“I’m not arguing the decision,” Dempsey said. “I’m arguing the way the decision was made.”

Council members agreed to discuss the issue at a future meeting.