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Valley council passes change to nonconforming use rule

Planning Commission recommended denying rule change

In an effort to help one property owner, the Spokane Valley City Council made a change to nonconforming use rules Tuesday that will affect the entire city.

The council, with the exception of Bill Gothmann, voted to allow nonconforming uses to expand to an adjacent parcel no matter when it was purchased. The old rules stipulated that such an expansion could only take place if the landowner owned both parcels at the time the use became nonconforming. A nonconforming use is created when a business that used to be allowed in a certain area is no longer allowed due to a zoning change.

The Planning Commission was concerned about the expansiveness of the new rule and that it could be used to allow any nonconforming business, including porn shops, to expand without limit. It recommended denying the rule change, but a majority of the council voted to ignore the recommendation and create the ordinance that was approved Tuesday.

The proposed rule change was requested to benefit Hite Crane, which is being forced out of its longtime location on Broadway near the fairgrounds to make way for construction of a railroad overpass. Business owner Gary Hite bought two parcels of land on Appleway where it diverges from Sprague, but under the old rules he was only ? allowed to use one of the parcels that had previously had a nonconforming use on it.

Gothmann said he had concerns that the use didn’t fit with the neighborhood. There are homes next to the location and a middle school is across the street. “If a business is not conforming, it has been deemed incompatible with the business next to it, with the land next to it,” he said.

He favored only allowing nonconforming uses to expand after applying for a conditional use permit, which requires that neighbors be notified and a public hearing held before the hearing examiner. “That’s what open government is about,” Gothmann said. “It’s not just about having open meetings once a week.”

The hearing examiner can impose mitigation conditions, but the community development director cannot, he said. “This particular ordinance affects the whole city. It affects all nonconforming uses.”

Councilman Bob McCaslin dismissed Gothmann’s concerns. “I’d suggest the council take a field trip out to the school and stare out the windows” to see if any damage is being done to the neighborhood, he said. “The more Hites we get out here, the better off we’ll be.”

Councilwoman Rose Dempsey said she was in favor of allowing Hite to expand his business but was also worried about opening the door to unintended consequences.

Attorney Stan Schultz, who represents Hite Crane, urged the council to approve the change. “It solves a number of problems,” he said. “There are very sufficient safeguards in this ordinance. If this becomes controversial, the public always has a right to appeal those decisions.”

Businessman Dick Behm said he wanted Hite Crane to be able to open for business. “I do still have concerns about bypassing the conditional use process,” he said. “I’ve been involved in several of those hearing examiner hearings. It’s a good process and it’s reliable.

“I don’t believe the council has considered all the unintended consequences of allowing the expansion of nonconforming uses in certain circumstances. You may be opening the door to many future problems.”

Dwight Hume, who owns a land use planning business, advised the council to avoid requiring a conditional use permit. “It’s an imposition on everybody to have to take that additional step,” he said.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve a revamped interlocal agreement with the Spokane Regional Transportation Council and heard a report on a last-minute call for projects by the SRTC for grant funds for Transportation Enhancement and Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grants. Public works director Neil Kersten said city staff is still considering what projects to request funding for. “You’re not required to approve these, but we want to make sure you know what we’re doing,” he said.

The council also voted unanimously to have the Planning Commission consider a text amendment adding service stations and/or convenience stores (with ancillary uses) to the allowed uses in the Neighborhood Center zone. It would make the Hico Village at Mullan and Sprague an allowed use.