One development code amendment failed to be passed by the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday while a second was approved even as some council members objected to passing it without a second reading.
The first amendment that failed on a 4-3 vote addressed a variety of issues. Some parts cleaned up language, clarified issues and in a couple of cases it would have corrected errors. It also would have changed the distances involved in so-called clearview triangles at intersections to ensure unimpeded visibility for drivers to match national standards. Several council members objected to the entire amendment because of one provision that would have limited fence height in the front yards of commercial properties to 48 inches or 36 inches if it was sight-obstructing.
The lower heights would have applied to the first 20 feet of the property from the front lot line. Side and back yard fences would have remained at 8 feet. As it is now the city’s development code does not address fence heights in nonresidential front yards at all, said planning technician Marty Palaniuk.
The proposed amendment was unanimously passed by the Planning Commission on Feb. 11. A public hearing was held to receive public input, but no one commented for or against the amendment.
Council member Dean Grafos called the new limits “pretty significant changes.” He said it would make the first 20 feet of commercial lots unusable. “Do you really think that’s economically a good idea?”
Palaniuk said having a tall fence up to the lot line would be a public safety issue because it would block lines of sight. Police would not be able to see into a business and neighboring properties would have the visibility of their businesses limited.
Council member Brenda Grassel said the council should avoid making any zoning changes because of their intentions to repeal the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan and possibly revert to 2003 zoning. “Perhaps we should table any of this type of zoning,” she said. “I think this kind of muddies the water.”
Council member Rose Dempsey said the council should consider the amendment. “This is mostly just clarifying and cleaning up, isn’t it?” she said.
Palaniuk said the proposed changes would not affect just the SARP area. “These requirements would apply to the entire city,” he said.
Council member Bob McCaslin said he agreed with Grassel. “She brought up a very valid point,” he said. “Five of us ran on a Positive Change. Part of that Positive Change was getting rid of SARP.”
Grassel also said that the amendment made too many broad changes that would have made too many properties nonconforming. “My biggest concern is that our compliance officers would go out and write a bunch of tickets,” she said.
Council member Bill Gothmann suggested taking out the fencing rules and passing the rest of the changes. “This is not directed at SARP,” he said. “In regard to throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I don’t think that’s a good idea. This fixes errors. Do we really want errors in our zoning code?”
Dempsey cautioned against scrapping the amendment. “I’m concerned that in our zeal to keep campaign promises that we’re going to put a stop to all government,” she said.
“Is she suggesting that we renege on our campaign promises?” said McCaslin.
Dempsey said she wasn’t suggesting that. “I just want you to be a little judicious in how it’s applied.”
As in the Planning Commission public hearing, no one commented for or against the development code amendment. Grafos, Grassel, McCaslin and Mayor Tom Towey voted not to advance the proposed ordinance to a second reading, essentially killing it.
Despite voicing concerns about passing any zoning changes, it was Grassel who made the motion to move forward the second proposed development code amendment of the night that would allow secondhand stores in light industrial zones.
The amendment stipulated that the stores must be on an arterial, are limited to a single tenant and must be at least 15,000 square feet. At a previous meeting Grassel had suggested lowering the space requirement to 5,000 square feet. City Attorney Mike Connelly said that change could not be made because the amendment, which went through a Planning Commission public hearing, was specifically limited to 15,000 square feet. “It wasn’t wide open,” he said. The council can choose to request another amendment with the smaller store size, but it would have to go through the Planning Commission.
Dwight Hume, who requested the development code amendment on behalf of a client, asked the council to consider passing the ordinance that night. Hume has a client who wants to open a secondhand store at 6206 E. Trent Ave. “We’re actually moving into the building on the presumption that it will be approved,” he said.
The amendment was scheduled for its first reading at Tuesday’s meeting and ordinances have two readings before a vote is taken. After Hume’s request, Grassel withdrew her motion to advance the amendment to a second reading and council member Gary Schimmels made a new motion to suspend the usual rules and approve the amendment immediately.
Gothmann said that while he favored the amendment, he did not like suspending the second reading rule to do it. Dempsey agreed. “I am concerned about the haste,” she said. “Two weeks would not have made a difference on this.”
Grafos said speed was necessary. “There are 28 to 32 jobs at stake,” he said. “That’s more important than a second reading.”
The amendment passed unanimously.