The Spokane Valley City Council hit on several different items during Tuesday’s council meeting, including another discussion on the future of the Broadway Avenue Safety Project. The council voted to prepare a motion to postpone the project.
The project would restripe Broadway between Pines Road and Park Road from four traffic lanes to two traffic lanes, a center turn lane and two bike paths. In two previous meetings Councilwoman Brenda Grassel had said she wanted city staff to prepare a motion to kill the project, for which the city has received a large grant covering 80 percent of the cost. Acting City Manager Mike Jackson said that under the grant rules, the city has until next year’s construction season to begin the project. He suggested suspending the project instead of canceling it.
Mayor Tom Towey asked if city staff could compile accident data if the council decided to postpone it. Public works director Neil Kersten said it would require seven or eight years to compile “statistically significant” data. The council has already received a staff report several times that indicates that accidents are down significantly on the already restriped section of Broadway from Sullivan to Pines.
“We have looked at this,” said Councilwoman Rose Dempsey. “We’ve studied this. What’s the point of studying it further?”
Councilman Gary Schimmels has spoken in the past in favor of keeping the project. “I think at this point it’s an administrative decision,” he said this week. “It was given to staff a long time ago.”
But despite his past support, Schimmels joined Towey, Grassel and Councilman Dean Grafos in asking staff to prepare a motion to suspend the project.
The council also discussed the franchise agreement with Comcast. City staff worked for five years to negotiate the agreement with Comcast and the City Council, including Grafos, unanimously approved the agreement in December. The contract includes a fee of 35 cents per customer per month that Comcast would give to the city to be spent on equipment to televise City Council meetings or to support educational channels. During the Feb. 16 meeting Grafos objected to the fee, leading a majority of the council to vote against collecting the fee for now and touching off repeated discussions of whether the council meetings should be broadcast at all.
“This is basically increasing the cost of the service to the subscribers,” Grafos said.
Senior administrative analyst Morgan Koudelka said the council can choose to collect the 35 cents, reduce the amount collected, eliminate that provision from the agreement or not collect the fee while leaving placeholder language in the contract so the council could change its mind at a later date.
Towey said he favored the last option because the council has yet to reach a decision on broadcasting the meetings. “I would like to have the option in the future to use that,” he said. “We don’t know what form of broadcasting we’re going to have.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann said Comcast provides several educational channels that are used by Spokane Valley residents and that the city should contribute to funding that effort. The channels are used by local colleges and District 81 and some college classes are offered that way. “If we choose not to, we’re choosing ignorance for our citizens.”
The entire Comcast discussion has been going on too long and a decision needs to be made, said Schimmels. “This has been going on for four and a half months and I think it’s still as clear as mud,” he said.
City attorney Mike Connelly cautioned that the last two options would require opening up the contract for renegotiation. “Once we open it, other issues may come up,” he said.
The council ended the discussion with Grafos, Towey, Schimmels and Grassel asking the staff to prepare a motion to not collect the fee but leave placeholder language in the contract.
In other business, the council heard a brief report on the search for a new city manager. Applications are now being accepted and the council will begin reviewing the applications on June 7 with a possible executive session after the June 15 council meeting to discuss the applicants.
There was also discussion on the Gateway Commercial Avenue and Gateway Commercial Center zones in the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan. The zones are the first to be considered as the council re-evaluates the entire plan. The area is west of Argonne along Sprague and includes the area known as Auto Row. “The area is evolving into an auto destination area and that is what this plan envisions,” said associate planner Lori Barlow.
She went over what is and is not allowed in the zones and compared it to what was allowed before. Grassel questioned why businesses like butcher shops and clothing shops were not allowed in the two zones. The idea of the plan is to keep similar businesses grouped together and the focus of those zones is auto, Barlow said. “All of those are examples of small scale retail” which are allowed in other SARP zones, she said. “This whole plan is premised on restricting certain uses to certain areas.”
She said a quick survey of the area showed that 94 percent of the businesses already there match the zoning. Examples of non-conforming uses are Jenny’s Café, DéjÀ Vu and a substance abuse center. “The conclusion one can draw from that is the area is already naturally transitioning to that type of use,” she said. “Those (nonconforming) uses that are there will be allowed to continue and could even expand if it falls within the code.”