A lengthy and sometimes heated discussion marked the first reading of a proposed emergency comprehensive plan amendment at Tuesday’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting. The amendment would remove the City Center zone from the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan and replace it with mixed-use avenue zoning.
It was approved to move forward for a second and final reading on Jan. 25 on a 4-2 vote, with Rose Dempsey and Bill Gothmann voting no. Councilman Bob McCaslin was absent.
Council members and members of the public repeatedly referenced that the amendment was being made to help two property owners who requested the change to allow a used car lot to open near University City.
Gothmann immediately proposed a compromise; shifting the western boundaries of the City Center zone to Balfour to the north of Sprague and Dartmouth to the south. That would remove the affected property from the zone, he said.
Overall, eight people spoke against the emergency ordinance and seven testified in favor of it. Many of those who spoke are regulars at council meetings and have expressed their opinions on SARP frequently in the past.
Former Spokane Valley mayor Diana Wilhite acknowledged that the plan isn’t perfect, but urged the council to keep it. “I don’t think throwing the baby out with the bath water is a good idea,” she said.
Businessman Jack Pring, who wants to bring in the used car lot on his property, acknowledged contributing to the campaigns of five of the council members, including all four of those who voted “yes” Tuesday night. “I did it with no strings attached,” he said.
DeeDee Loberg said it doesn’t make sense that the council voted to lower property taxes while saying an economic emergency requires passage of the amendment. She would rather her taxes be used for a city center. “I would like to give my two cents back,” she said. “It’s ugly out there and we want it to be fixed.”
Retired educator Chuck Hafner said the rhetoric against the amendment is “negative, slanderous and uncivil.” City center zoning “stymies growth and development” and a city center should be at CenterPlace instead, he said. “The business people welcome this change.”
Planning commission chairman John Carroll said the council has been saying that changing the zone will bring economic benefits. “You have not offered any evidence or data to support these claims,” he said. Carroll said a large used car lot would not add new jobs, but instead push out some local business owners who currently own small used car lots that dot Sprague Avenue. “I question why are you willing to trade our city’s future for a used car lot,” he said.
Some speakers to criticized Carroll, who wrote a letter to the editor that was e-mailed around the business community. “It was completely out of order,” said Hafner.
Mary Pollard said she didn’t like Carroll’s “bully attitude” and was offended at his “surly and disrespectful behavior.” Carroll should not be attacking the council and is not an elected official and therefore doesn’t represent the citizens, she said.
Business owner Dick Behm said the council was being hypocritical by using an emergency ordinance to push through a zoning change. “This council is doing what it criticized the previous council of doing” but with much less input by citizens, he said.
Gothmann said he proposed his compromise because he’s afraid the city will be sued if it passes the emergency ordinance, which would delay the proposed car lot. “I don’t want to play games and have to go back to the courts,” he said. “I want to get it done.”
“It would be a beautiful solution for a contentious problem,” said Dempsey. “We don’t have to take sides and look askance at each other.”
Councilman Dean Grafos said the amendment was about more than the Pring property. “Changing the size of the city center doesn’t help other business owners,” he said.
“It doesn’t solve all our problems, but it solves this problem,” Dempsey said.
Gothmann said he is concerned that the council has not heard from property owners in the City Center zone. “Why are we not hearing from them?” he said. “Why would we make decisions for them without sitting down with them?”
Gothmann also said he saw no evidence of an emergency in the City Center zone as a whole. “I don’t see it,” he said. “I see no proof.”
Several citizens spoke in favor of Gothmann’s compromise, but it was defeated with only Dempsey and Gothmann voting for it.
Mayor Tom Towey said that people voted him and other Positive Change members into office knowing that they were against SARP. “They looked at the city center and they voted,” he said. “They told me they didn’t want the city center.”
Towey said he appreciated the public comment, “but I’ve got to go back to the 13,000 people out there who told me they didn’t want the city center.”
Dempsey said the issue was not on the ballot last November. “I don’t think people realized they were voting on the city center,” she said.