The Spokane Valley City Council took its first step Tuesday in a months-long process to review the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan, a dramatic – and controversial – rezone approved last year. The council was presented with a quick update of the economic analysis done by a consultant in 2006.
“You can use the information or not, but we feel a responsibility to at least present it to you,” said Community Development Director Kathy McClung.
The original motivation behind SARP was to make changes to zoning because there was a glut of available retail space along Sprague, Planning Manager Greg McCormick said. “That had a tendency to lower land values due to oversupply and lack of demand,” he said.
The city can expect an additional 90,000 square feet of new development annually, with a demand of only 40,000 square feet a year. The update from EcoNorthwest cautions against looking at the short-term downward cycle as an overall downward trend. Growth will resume, but at a slower pace. If the economic analysis was done now, there would be lower estimates of annual sales and lower estimates of annual development of retail space, but the overall problem of too much retail space and not enough demand still applies, the update states.
McClung also asked the council for approval of a letter she planned to send out the next day to invite property owners in the Gateway Commercial zone in SARP to a special meeting to provide public comment on the zone changes.
“I made some corrections on your notice,” said councilman Dean Grafos as he handed out copies of a letter he wrote. “I’d like to see this letter go out.”
Grafos’ letter presented a series of questions in bold type, including “Do you understand that this new zone affects the way you use your property?” and “Do you understand that the zone may affect the improvements to your property?”
Councilwoman Rose Dempsey objected to the tone in Grafos’ letter. “I’m a little concerned about the combative wording,” she said. “It makes me uncomfortable.”
“Is it combative or is it just speaking directly to the issue?” Grafos said. “I don’t think the property owners understand what this is doing to their property.”
“You’re so sensitive,” councilman Bob McCaslin said to Dempsey. “My goodness.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann suggested rewording the questions into declarative statements to make them less harsh. “We’re not under the Spanish Inquisition,” he said.
McClung said she would take the suggestions under advisement. “It does go out under my signature,” she said. “I’ll do my best to accommodate you.”
Sending the letter is an administrative function, Gothmann said. “It’s not the job of the council to write the letter.”
Broadway project draws further comment
In light of complaints at recent council meetings about a planned road construction project on Broadway, senior engineer Steve Worley spoke about how the city has seen the real estate excise tax money it uses to fund street projects drop sharply. The city searches for grants to help pay for projects, which usually only require the city to provide a 15 percent or 20 percent match. That source of money, too, is beginning to dry up. “The demand for more grants has gone up,” public works director Neil Kersten said. “It’s very competitive.”
Grafos asked if past projects were submitted for grants because they were needed or only because they would qualify for a grant. “First and foremost, the projects are needed,” Worley said. “Mostly they’re needed for safety reasons. The first criteria is need. The second criteria is how well does this meet the grant criteria.”
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel brought up the proposed Broadway Avenue Safety Project, which would re-stripe Broadway between Park and Pines to one lane each direction with a center turn lane and bike lanes. The project would also pay for some sidewalk improvements to make them compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The $932,000 effort would be largely paid for by a $746,000 state grant. “What would we need to do to put a stop to that project and leave it four lanes but go ahead with the sidewalk improvements?” she said.
That would not be possible, Kersten replied. If the project is changed that much “that project (funding) would be pulled back,” he said. “We’d lose the project.”
Councilman Gary Schimmels recommended keeping the project. “The last thing we want to do is give a grant back,” he said. “It’s just not a good way to do business. If we go out for another grant, they’re going to give us more than the third degree.”
At the end of the meeting, Grassel asked city staff to prepare a motion for consideration at the next council meeting to cancel the project.
Level of river pollution questioned
In other business, the council heard a brief presentation on the Shoreline Master Program. The plan is being updated and was previously presented to the council and discussed in depth during a joint meeting with the Planning Commission. The council will soon be asked to approve the shoreline inventory and analysis so the plan can advance.
Grassel said she was concerned at several things included in the plan, including statements that the numbers of fish are declining and the river is contaminated by heavy metals and PCBs. “Could we get their documentation on this?” she asked. Grassel said she wanted to have an expert prove to her that the river is contaminated.
“It’s well documented that there is heavy metals and PCBs in the river,” said senior planner Scott Kuhta, noting that the Department of Ecology had led several projects along the river. “There are cleanup efforts under way.”
Kuhta said that the information in the plan was taken from over 50 documents produced by government agencies and other groups and the source of the information was provided in footnotes.
Grassel said she wanted more information before the plan is completed and given to the Department of Ecology for approval. “I don’t want to go through 50 documents,” she said. She stated again that she wanted to hear proof of the claims from experts. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
“I believe they have” provided proof, Kuhta said. “It’s in the footnotes.”
“I agree with what Brenda is saying,” said councilman Dean Grafos.
Councilman Bill Gothmann expressed surprise at the last-minute questions. “Was not this document in front of us weeks ago?” he said. “We had a biologist and a hydrologist sitting before us.”
City staff agreed to have the consultants present at the next council meeting so council members can ask questions.
More discussion requested on intersection project
At the end of the meeting Grafos asked to add to a future agenda a discussion on the decision to completely close the intersection of Sprague and Sullivan during construction this summer. “We have the busiest intersection in Spokane Valley and we’re closing it down completely for three weeks,” he said. “I think that’s very detrimental to business. I don’t think we should do that.”
A report given to the council in this week’s packet included information on the project to install a concrete intersection. Closing down the intersection completely will shorten construction by three to five weeks and save $100,000, according to staff. Businesses located at or near the intersection were asked for their input and the majority were in favor of the shorter construction time. The start of the project was delayed until June 21 after several property owners requested the change and arrangements have been made to allow access to businesses during construction.