The city of Spokane Valley will move ahead with discussions on an emergency ordinance to eliminate the City Center zone from the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan.
A 5-2 majority indicated Tuesday night that it wants to ignore a planning commission recommendation to ignore the emergency ordinance. The subject is scheduled to be discussed at the council’s next meeting on Jan. 11; public comments will be taken.
In its findings the commission said that the proposed amendment “was processed too quickly and without sufficient public input.” The findings also state that “the Subarea Plan and City Center zone has not been given enough time to develop” and that “a lack of vision and indecisiveness for a City Center is contributing to economic problems.”
The council took steps to create the emergency ordinance at the request of two land owners. The Pring Corp. has indicated that it will buy land on the west end of University City from Jim Magnuson if the land is rezoned to allow a used car lot. The emergency ordinance would replace the City Center zone with a Mixed Use Avenue zone. The Mixed Use Avenue zone was altered by a council vote in September to allow used vehicle sales with a conditional use permit.
Councilman Bill Gothmann suggested a compromise that would keep the City Center zone, but shrink the western border to Dartmouth on the south side of Sprague and Balfour on the north side of Sprague. That would keep the zone while at the same time allowing the property deal to go through.
He said he was also concerned that the planning commission and council have only heard from three property owners in the affected area. “I don’t think that’s a good sample,” he said. “I think it’s essential that we talk to those businesses.”
Councilman Dean Grafos said he wanted to push ahead with the emergency ordinance. “This isn’t about Jack Pring’s property,” he said. “This is about the SARP plan.”
He also noted that a used car lot would bring in needed jobs. “The city center has moved on.”
“I want to know how many jobs we’re talking about,” said council woman Rose Dempsey.
Former city attorney and current consultant Mike Connelly said it would be “speculative and not an appropriate issue” to consider the number of jobs that might be at stake. “You’re not zoning a specific piece of property. You’re making a legislative decision.”
Connelly also cautioned that the emergency ordinance could be challenged if the council moves forward. “This particular emergency provision is untested,” he said. “We don’t know where the court will fall on this.”
The council must produce findings giving legitimate reasons why an emergency exists, he said. The council could avoid any potential challenge by eliminating or modifying the City Center zone during the regular annual comprehensive plan amendment process.
Gothmann urged his fellow council members to go with his solution for now and then modify the City Center more later if they want to. “This could get us over the hump, over this immediate issue,” he said.
But Gothmann could not convince anyone but Dempsey to follow his plan. “I’m not an expert at land use, but I know the owners of that land are hurting,” said Mayor Tom Towey. “I know there’s an emergency.”
Dempsey objected that no true emergency exists. “It’s just not there,” she said. “The situation is dire, I grant you that.”
Grafos was joined by Towey, Gary Schimmels, Brenda Grassel and Bob McCaslin in saying they wanted to move ahead with the emergency ordinance.