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Code query stirs debate

Sat., Feb. 27, 2010, midnight

Council responds sharply to proposed changes

Two proposed changes to Spokane Valley’s Uniform Development Code caught the attention of some City Council members during Tuesday’s meeting, leading to debate on property owner rights.

One proposed UDC amendment, requested by a citizen, is to allow secondhand stores in light industrial zones with conditions. The land would have to be on an arterial, the building would have to be at least 15,000 square feet and only a single tenant would be allowed.

Council member Bob McCaslin expressed concern about the building size. “If someone had 14,000 (square feet) they couldn’t do it,” he said. “They might want to. I think we should broaden it.”

Council member Rose Dempsey expressed concern about dropping the building size requirement, which might lead to an influx of small secondhand stores. “So?” said McCaslin. “You’re stymieing business.”

“The citizen did ask for the 15,000 square feet,” said assistant planner Karen Kendall.

Council member Brenda Grassel suggested reducing the building size restriction to 5,000 square feet. “I think it would make a more level playing field,” she said.

The amendment was requested by Dwight Hume of Land Use Planning Services, who said he and city staff wanted to limit secondhand stores to the larger ones that need a shipping and receiving dock. “That type of facility is commonly found in a light industrial zone,” Hume said in interview later in the week. “It’s a lot less expensive than being located in a commercial zone.”

Hume, who attended the meeting, said the council seemed to be leaning toward being less restrictive. “That’s not what the planning staff and I were going for,” he said. “They’re just dropping the bar. Normally this sort of use is not allowed in an industrial zone. This council is saying why not.”

Hume has a client interested in opening a secondhand store in an old Diamond Lumber location at 6206 E. Trent Ave. A letter sent to council member Dean Grafos in December by Jim Bonuccelli of Village Square Realty references the property and complains about not being able to locate a secondhand store in a light industrial zone. Village Square Realty donated $250 to Grafos’ election campaign and Bonuccelli donated $500 to Grassel’s campaign.

“We’ve been kind of talking about this with (Grafos),” Hume said. “Bonuccelli was the one who was contacting him. I’ve just been the common denominator trying to solve the problem.”

Grafos has also advocated returning all commercial city zoning to what was in effect when the city incorporated in 2003. When the city formed it adopted Spokane County zoning. Secondhand stores are currently allowed in light industrial zones in the county, said Spokane County Planner Jim Millgard, but that use was added in 2005. “At the time of Valley incorporation, that would not have been allowed,” Millgard said.

A second amendment proposed by city staff addressing fence heights and the “clearview triangle” at intersections – the area required to be kept clear of bushes, fences and other obstructions that might block driver line-of-sight. Traffic engineer Inga Note said the changes are being recommended to match recent changes in national clearview triangle guidelines, which vary depending on the type of intersection and speed limit on the road.

Grafos objected to extending the triangle zones. “If someone had a 100 foot lot, you are using their whole lot,” he said. “Why is that necessary? I think it’s excessive.”

Note said most traffic obstructions occur right on the corner. The city also measures the required triangle shape from the curb or pavement line. “In some cases it may only take the tip off your right of way,” she said.

Council member Bob McCaslin asked if the changes were necessary and legally required. “It would not be against the law to keep our current guidelines,” Note said. In making the city code match national standards the city would be more protected in case of a lawsuit, she said.

“There’s a safety issue,” said deputy city attorney Cary Driskell.

Grassel objected to a change that would restrict front yard fence height to 36 or 48 inches on all residential and commercial lots. “I see a lot of issues with that,” she said.

“This is from 20 feet from the property line back,” said planning technician Marty Palaniuk. “At the 20 feet back mark they would be able to go up to 8 feet (tall).”

In other business, the council discussed declaring a piece of property surplus at 16608 E. Broadway Ave. The land was purchased in December to acquire right-of-way from road improvements to Broadway Avenue, but the city is left with a 1,300-square-foot chunk it does not need, said senior engineer Steve Worley. City staff would like to trade the parcel to neighboring property owner J. Brent McKinley to partially offset the cost of right of way being purchased from McKinley.

“We think it makes a lot of sense,” Worley said. “The city has no need for it.”

Council members seemed receptive to the idea, which is scheduled for a vote on March 9. McCaslin said that he would recuse himself from the vote because of his ties to McKinley. “He donated to my campaign fund 12 years ago,” he said.

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