Commission won’t back zoning change

Council declared emergency to remove City Center designation

Five of the seven members of the Spokane Valley Planning Commission voted to recommend against an emergency comprehensive plan amendment to remove the City Center zone from the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan even as some of them acknowledged that the City Council would likely ignore their recommendation.

“The City Council will do whatever they want to do,” said Commissioner Joe Mann.

The request is “driven by one developer,” said Commissioner Marcia Sands. “I think that’s where the city council will go because that’s where their money is coming from.”

The city council voted to declare an emergency and send the proposed comprehensive plan amendment to the planning commission after the removal of the City Center zone was requested by businessmen Jim Magnuson, owner of University City, and Brad Pring, president of Pring Corp. There is apparently an agreement for Pring’s company to purchase land on the west side of the University City property for a used-car lot. The sale is contingent on a zone change because a used-car lot is prohibited under the current zoning.

Several commissioners said they did not believe the request was a valid emergency and said the public had too little time to give input, particularly compared to the length of time and amount of public comment it took to create the City Center zone in the first place. Sands said she understands there’s a tough economy right now. “There was a lot of public input that went into the city center,” she said. “The citizens of the city need more input. Can we put this to a vote?”

“That would have to be a council decision,” said assistant city planner Karen Kendall.

Commissioner Rustin Hall said he would like to have some statistically valid information to act on. “I would really like to know with accuracy what the public wants,” he said.

The meeting was lightly attended and only a handful of people commented on the issue. The commissioners did receive several e-mails and letters, the majority of which were in favor of retaining a city center, they said. Some of the letters suggested putting a city center at Mirabeau Park; others suggested the Pring property on Sprague next to Balfour Park. “Build a new city hall and a nice green park area for all of us citizens, not another car lot,” wrote Tim Hatton.

“Please do not allow an ‘emergency zone change’ as neither of the parties are in distress and no ‘emergency’ exists,” Jeff Brooks wrote.

Business owner Dick Behm owns property down the road from the City Center zone. “One property owner asked for a zone change,” he said. “I don’t believe this is an emergency by any stretch of the imagination.”

Business owner Karla Kaley pointed out several businesses that are opening new stores or expanding in Spokane and Liberty Lake. “They’re not here because our city doesn’t have its act together,” she said. The city must have a plan in order to succeed, she said.

Dwight Hume, owner of a land-use planning business, said people who didn’t support SARP did not speak out during the lengthy process of creating the plan. “They spoke when they voted in the council,” he said.

Hume also said that the planning commission only has an advisory role. “You’re here to assist and facilitate,” he said. “We need to be responsive to the legislative body, not independent of them.”

Robert Olson said business owners he has talked to would like to invest in Spokane Valley, but they are holding back because they don’t know in which direction the city is going. “There’s a lot of mixed messages,” he said. “That’s a big frustration.”

Business owner Susan Scott said the survey that showed a strong majority of people wanted a city center, and wanted it at Sprague and University, is too old. “I believe there were flaws throughout the entire process” of approving SARP, she said.

Commissioner Craig Eggleston said people are giving too much weight to the last election. “We did not have 100 percent voter turnout in that election cycle,” he said. “I have to take that with a grain of salt.”

Mann recommended against allowing the emergency change. “I believe this city does need a city center,” which is the heart of a city, he said. “Without a heart, it dies. I’m sure the people who are in favor of disincorporation would like that.

“I like SARP,” he said. “It gives us a plan, gives us direction. I think the biggest problem is we keep changing our minds. That’s why businesses don’t want to come here. They don’t know what we’re going to do next.”

The entire process has been too quick, he said. “If this goes through, it will be a nice place for a car lot,” he said. “It won’t be such a nice place to live.”

Hall said he doesn’t want to go back to what the city had before. “To have the same thing and expect better results makes no sense to me,” he said.

In his arguments in favor of the emergency amendment, Commissioner Arne Woodard echoed Hume’s comments about the role of the planning commission. “We’re here to assist City Council,” he said. “We’re supposed to assist them. They’ve made a planning recommendation to us.”

“I agree, we are here to assist the City Council,” Sands said. “I don’t think that means rubber-stamping everything.”

According to the city website, the role of the planning commissions is “to study and make recommendations to the mayor and city council for future planned growth.”

When questioned after the meeting, Woodard said he wasn’t advocating rubber-stamping everything the council wants. The commission’s job is “to assist the council, not oppose it,” he said. “We’re a body to do the hearing, take public comment.”

Sands said the city can never have a plan that everyone agrees with. “Making this an emergency effort is just moving way too fast,” she said. “If you want to change it, change it the right way. Please don’t change it for one person or two people.”

Commission Chairman John Carroll noted that SARP is a 20-year plan. “They declare it a failure and want to dump it,” he said. “I think it’s short-sighted. To pull back is logical and reasonable, to dump it is not logical and reasonable.”

He said there is no plan to replace it. The council is “looking at a very small group and making decisions based on that,” he said.

Eggleston said Scott, who spoke at the hearing, has personally benefitted from changes made to SARP. He also said people should look at the list of campaign donors during the last council election. “There are a lot of things going on here,” he said.

Woodard said it doesn’t matter who benefits from the amendment. “I don’t think that’s really relevant here,” he said.

Only Woodard and Commissioner Art Sharpe voted against the recommendation that the council reject the amendment. Sharpe said he favored modification of the proposed amendment. “This is a knee-jerk reaction to make this an emergency amendment,” he said.

“I don’t think the plan we have here is the right plan,” Woodard said. “I think we need to come back and start over.”

He’s all in favor of a used-car dealership coming in and creating jobs, he said. “I tell you what, they pay a lot of taxes,” Woodard said of used-car lots. “Who am I to tell them no?”

The planning commission’s recommendation is scheduled to be considered by the City Council at the Jan. 4 council meeting.

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