The Pring Corp. may well get the zone change it wants for land it wants to purchase near University City, but it won’t be within the 60 days the company requested.
City staff brought back Mike Connelly, former Spokane Valley city attorney, to brief the council Tuesday on its options for delivering the requested zone change.
The parcel of land at Dartmouth Road and Appleway is owned by Jim Magnuson. The land is currently in the City Center zone under the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan. Magnuson and Brad Pring, president of Pring Corp., sent letters to the city in early September saying that Pring had signed a deal to purchase the land contingent on the city making a zone change to allow vehicle sales.
The city center was envisioned as a dense urban core with a library and a city hall. Because of that, adding vehicle sales as an allowed use will require a comprehensive plan amendment, Connelly said. According to state law, comprehensive plan amendments can only be made once a year. This year’s amendment process will begin in November and continue through spring.
But the library backed out of the city center and the new council stopped negotiating to buy land for a city hall and has not included any money for construction of a new city hall in its budget. Those changes mean that the council could create an emergency ordinance to dump the city center zone and replace it with something like mixed-use zoning, Connelly said. “There is an emergency exception to the process if you can identify an emergency,” he said.
The city could argue that trying to maintain the city center restrictions on the land will create an economic hardship, but such an argument could be legally challenged, he said. “There’s going to be some risk.” The safest way for the city to proceed would be to make the change as part of the regular annual comprehensive plan amendment process, he said.
Councilman Bob McCaslin resurrected an argument he had with Connelly in March about why the city couldn’t simply pass a temporary emergency zone change and have public hearings after the fact. “I didn’t dream this up, Mike,” he said.
Connelly said he stood by his earlier statements that using that particular statute to make changes to SARP would not be legal. The statute McCaslin cited refers to making a code change that would still have to match the comprehensive plan or enacting a moratorium to stop certain uses until a city can make a permanent change. “Here we’d be using it to allow uses,” Connelly said. “I don’t think that goes along with the intent of the statute. I really didn’t feel like it applied and I still don’t.”
Kathy McClung, community development director, said passing an emergency ordinance would simply allow the city to make a comprehensive plan change more than the once a year normally allowed. The proposed change would still have to go before the planning commission and be subject to a public hearing. “You still have to go through the process,” she said.
“How much time would we save if we did the emergency?” asked Councilwoman Brenda Grassel.
“It’s possible we could get it done by the end of the year,” McClung said, but she cautioned that the upcoming holidays may slow things down. City staff will prepare a proposed emergency ordinance and have it before the council sometime this month, McClung said.
It is unclear whether the length of time required to approve an ordinance changing the zoning will impact the potential land deal between Pring Corp. and Magnuson. Pring Corp. representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment and Magnuson refused to comment on the status of the sale.
The council also discussed its options for the entire SARP plan. The option to revoke the entire SARP and return the area to 2007 zoning seemed to find the most support from council members. “We already have an existing comprehensive plan,” McClung said. “We wouldn’t have to redo that.”
Starting over from scratch and redoing SARP zone by zone would be very time-intensive and require a lot of public meetings, she said. The council could also choose to only make the comprehensive plan changes suggested at various community meetings this year, do nothing at all or create an SARP overlay zone.
“The cleanest option would be to revoke SARP in its entirety,” said Councilman Dean Grafos.
McCaslin agreed, saying that when the five Positive Change candidates were elected they made two promises: remove then-City Manager Dave Mercier and get rid of SARP. “That’s a commitment we made to the public,” he said.