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Sprague/Appleway plan not simple to alter

Council learns changes cannot conflict with city’s Comprehensive Plan

It is not legal for the new Spokane Valley City Council to simply declare the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan null and void, said City Attorney Mike Connelly during Tuesday’s meeting. Instead the council must change the city’s Comprehensive Plan in a process that will take until 2011 to complete.

The SARP plan was passed in three parts, said Connelly. The first part was a Comprehensive Plan addressing property in the Sprague/Appleway corridor. The final two pieces of the plan spelled out the zoning and land use regulations for the area. No SARP zoning can be changed if the change would conflict with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Comprehensive Plan amendments can only be made once a year by state law, which is why the process will take until 2011 to complete.

The council may also decide to examine each section of SARP individually and see if there are changes they want to make immediately that would not require a Comprehensive Plan amendment, he said. Those changes would still have to go through the Planning Commission to allow the public to comment on them.

Connelly also addressed some suggestions made by council members on how to repeal the SARP and explained why they would likely not withstand a legal challenge. One statute allows changes to the Comprehensive Plan if an emergency exists. The fact that the council does not like something a previous council did does not rise to the level of an emergency, Connelly said. “All of the case law requires underlying factual data that constitutes an emergency,” he said.

Some council members also suggested declaring a moratorium or passing an interim zoning ordinance. A moratorium is used to cease granting building permits, not to suspend development regulations. “I can’t find a single example of that,” he said. “I think it would be subject to challenge if we used that device.”

Likewise an interim zoning ordinance is usually used on an emergency basis to preserve the status quo while permanent changes are made, not to change the status quo. In that instance the council would still run into the requirement that any zoning changes could not conflict with the Comprehensive Plan, he said.

Connelly cautioned against using any method that might open the city up to lawsuits, calling the prospect of constantly shifting zoning rules because of legal challenges “dangerous.” “I think all three of those would be subject to challenge,” he said.

“Who could possibly be a challenger if you’re doing it to benefit the landowner?” said council member Brenda Grassel.

“Any other landowner who doesn’t agree with it,” Connelly said. A public interest group like Center for Justice could also weigh in. “Even if we couldn’t imagine a ‘who,’ I think you’d be surprised at who might come out of the woodwork.”

Mayor Tom Towey asked if the council could set up a committee of council members, community members and city staff to examine the SARP. Connelly said it would be better if the council examined the SARP and then passed changes along to the Planning Commission instead of adding another step to the process.

Council member Bill Gothmann said he has heard from local business owners who like the SARP plan. “I believe we are assuming something that in my opinion should not be assumed,” he said. “We are assuming SARP is evil. There is a diversity of opinion on the issue.”

Council member Dean Grafos, who has been leading the attack on SARP in recent weeks, asked city staff to prepare a motion to place SARP on the annual Comprehensive Plan amendment list and to also look at adding a series of reviews of the plan sections to the council meeting schedule.

In other business, the council unanimously voted to trade a piece of surplus property at 16608 E. Broadway Ave. to a neighboring landowner as a partial payment for right of way needed for the Broadway improvement project. Council member Bob McCaslin abstained because of a large donation the landowner made to a previous Senate campaign.

The council also voted unanimously to refuse money from Comcast to pay for video equipment to broadcast the council meetings. Comcast would have recouped the money by charging its Spokane Valley subscribers a fee of 35 cents per month. In previous meetings several council members called the fee an unwanted tax and said they wanted it eliminated. The council has not yet made a decision on whether to broadcast council meetings.

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