The death of the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan was a long, slow one that has been anticipated for some time. The final blow came Tuesday night when the majority of the Spokane Valley City Council voted to eliminate the plan against the recommendation of the city’s Planning Commission. Only Councilman Bill Gothmann voted to keep the plan.
The plan took effect in October 2009. In November 2009, SARP was essentially put on life support when five people who campaigned against SARP won seats on the City Council. Since then the council has made whatever changes it could before a comprehensive plan amendment could get rid of the plan once and for all.
Among other things, the plan called for more pedestrian friendly development – buildings close to the street with more windows and parking to the side or back. Additional cross streets were planned. Vehicle sales were limited to the Auto Row area and neighborhood center zones were created at major intersections down the corridor.
“I’ve always maintained that this was a huge government overreach,” said Councilman Dean Grafos. He owns property along Sprague Avenue and as a businessman, was vocal in his opposition of the plan. That opposition continued after he took his seat on the council.
Grafos said he believes SARP had too many restrictions that put Spokane Valley property owners at a competitive disadvantage. “There’s a huge capacity of commercial properties that are available and not just in Spokane Valley,” he said. “We are in competition with these folks. For us to restrict what our people can do is really the wrong thing to do in this economy.”
Now that SARP is gone Grafos believes Sprague will begin to recover. “It’s had a huge effect on what’s happened on Sprague Avenue, and I think we’ll see a huge difference when it’s repealed,” he said. “I do feel it will be a benefit to the property owners and to our city. We need to do everything we can to attract business and jobs to our city and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
One who has frequently voiced the same concerns as Grafos is Susan Scott, owner of Lark Inc. at 205 S. Evergreen Road. “It restores our vision for our property,” she said of the elimination of SARP. “Under the SARP it was the city’s vision for our property.”
Her property was originally included in SARP but was removed toward the end of the process. “I felt an obligation to keep following this thing because I knew what was in it,” she said. “SARP didn’t acknowledge the existing businesses and what they had in mind for their property.”
Scott said she has always planned to redevelop her property and when it was included in SARP that would not have been allowed. “This was our 401(k),” she said. “We have that option; it’s still alive.”
There was a surge of development on Sprague before SARP took effect as business owners tried to beat the new regulations, Scott said. “For the year it was there, everything just froze,” she said. “You’re going to see more development on Sprague.”
She believes the new City Council will “come up with a bottom-up plan rather than a top-down imposition.”
Carlos Landa owns the Opportunity Center strip mall on the northwest corner of Sprague and Pines Road. During a City Council meeting in October he said he had been planning to make $250,000 in improvements to his property but would not spend the money if the SARP plan went away and no plan to encourage revitalization replaced it.
In an email this week Landa wrote that the elimination of SARP would “kill Sprague Avenue’s chances of becoming a viable retail corridor” and said that the only certainty with the current City Council is that “there is no plan for Sprague Avenue nor are any being developed.”
“I thank the council for making this decision because except for a few key intersections such as ours that will remain viable, they have now told the business community to go elsewhere and they will,” he wrote. “As for the shopping center, our group has tabled all improvement plans for the time being.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann is now alone on the council in voicing his support for SARP. He has acknowledged that the plan is not perfect, but has said it can be adjusted and made to work. “The original reason to put SARP in was to increase the value of properties along Sprague so those properties would become more desirable,” he said. “It was literally a revitalization plan.”
The original plan was to jump-start a new city center, the core of SARP, by having a new library and city hall in the University City area. But the Spokane County Library District’s bond election failed and the new City Council stopped negotiating for land for a city hall. Gothmann said he thinks SARP was still viable even after those setbacks. “The library still has plans for a 50,000-square-foot library between Dartmouth and Evergreen within a quarter mile of Sprague,” he said.
He is disappointed that the city’s zoning along the six-mile stretch of Sprague will revert to zoning in effect in 2007. “It allows us to do precisely what we’ve been doing for the last 50 years,” he said. “Has what we’ve been doing for 50 years been working? Absolutely not. If we continue to do what we’re doing now we’ll continue to go downhill.”
While Gothmann doesn’t agree with the decision to get rid of SARP, he recognizes the reality he has to work with until his term expires at the end of the year. “They were elected by the citizens, and I have to respect that,” he said of his fellow council members. “We need to give it time, and we need to see what the citizens want to do. I’m obviously not going to be a part of that.”