After more than an hour of public comment received from a packed house, the Spokane Valley City Council voted Tuesday to pass an emergency comprehensive plan amendment that would eliminate city center zoning in the University City area and replace it with mixed-use zoning.
Councilman Bill Gothmann was alone in opposing the ordinance. Councilman Bob McCaslin was absent. Of the 20 people who testified, 12 supported the emergency ordinance.
The zone change was requested in September by the Pring Corp. and Jim Magnuson, owner of the University City Mall. The Pring Corp. said it wanted to buy land from Magnuson to be used for a used car dealer. The land is located on the west side of Dartmouth between Sprague and Appleway. The city center zone was part of the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan that took effect in October 2009. Four new council members were elected in November 2009 after running on a platform against SARP.
Resident Mary Pollard said the city shouldn’t worry about a city identity when the economy is struggling. “When we suspend people’s property rights, that’s tyranny,” she said.
Steve Neill thanked the council for “doing the will of the voters and bringing back sanity.” Diane Johnson said removing the city center zoning would “make businesses more productive.”
“I support reversing that zoning,” she said.
Nancy Nishimoya, who owns the Green Thumb Nursery in Greenacres, said she was tired of her business being nonconforming and that was a problem for other businesses as well. “That is what is contributing to the demise of business west of University,” she said. “I don’t know if we need a city center if we’re struggling so hard.”
Dan Allison said former Councilwoman Rose Dempsey had once said the “Positive Change” council members were steamrolling the SARP changes through. “I think you need to get the steamroller going,” he said.
Allan Hinkle said he attended meetings on the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan for eight months and believes that 80 percent of the people did not support the plan. “We didn’t find out about it until the train was rolling down the tracks,” he said. “It’s not what the people want. Sure there was a lot of money spent, but it was money wasted.”
Hinkle said he believes if the council changes the zoning, businesses will come into the area. “Like my friend Dan Allison said, steamroll it,” Hinkle said. “Full speed ahead.”
Those testifying against the ordinance also had their say. Some spoke specifically to the suggestion that a city hall be built next to CenterPlace. “This is the city center,” said Chris Pierce, referring to the University City area. “To call that the city center, I just don’t believe it.”
Business owner Karla Kaley said she was against building a city hall at Mirabeau. “Everyone is protecting their open space, and we’re talking about building on it,” she said.
DeeDee Loberg argued against the findings of fact included in the emergency ordinance. One of the findings is that the city’s revenue has been dropping, including “property taxes by $100,000 from 2010 to 2011.” Loberg noted that the entire $100,000 decrease was created because the council voted to lower property taxes and called the ordinance “disingenuous.”
She said the council has not listened to dissenting opinions and seems to be focused on representing special interests. “Who could possibly want more used car lots and convenience stores?” she said. “We have miles of that already.”
Valleyfest organizer Peggy Doering said she was commenting as a private citizen and was concerned that the amendment would be difficult to justify as an emergency. “This is not an emergency for the public good or the public interest,” she said.
She also referenced comments made at last week’s meeting by property owner Jack Pring, who said he gave money to the campaign funds of the Positive Change council members “with no strings attached.” That connection between Pring and some council members brings up the issue of fairness, she said.
The process to create SARP took years, and she doesn’t want to see all that hard work “tossed into the dead file,” Doering said. “Why declare an emergency? That’s the crux of the problem I’m having.”
Several current and former planning commission members also testified against the amendment, including Rustin Hall. He suggested that the city do a survey, which he estimated would cost $18,000 and take six weeks. The old survey done in 2004 is outdated, he said. “It would eliminate speculation about what Spokane Valley citizens want or don’t want,” he said. It may even turn out that the survey would validate the council’s actions, he said. “Until we do that, we’re speculating. This is way too important to speculate.”
Former planning commissioner Craig Eggleston said the council has only heard from a minority of the people despite the full council chambers. “Throw it out,” he said of the amendment. “This is irresponsible. It seems it’s more in the interest of developers and not the people of the Spokane Valley.”
Planning commission chairman John Carroll questioned why the council would add to the mixed use zone when nothing is happening in the area already zoned mixed use. He urged them to listen to all the citizens, not just the ones who voted them into office. “That’s only 15 percent of the population,” he said.
Gothmann said that changing the zoning would open the area up to many new manufacturing uses and other businesses. “Would you like a dog kennel in city center?” he said. “Is that appropriate?”
Councilman Dean Grafos said he was worried about all the businesses that are considered nonconforming under city center zoning, like McDonald’s, Rosauers and Les Schwab. “I believe this zoning plan and the SARP zone restricts those property rights,” he said.
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel emphasized that the zone change wasn’t being done to benefit one or two property owners. “It is not payback,” she said. “To me this is about property rights.”
It is unfair to hold property owners “hostage” with strict zoning, she said. “Consider the harm that has been done to these property owners,” she said. Those property owners take priority over anyone else who might comment about the issue, she said.
Gothmann said that there are always property restrictions to deal with. “Zoning is by definition a restriction of property rights,” he said.
Grafos and Grassel were joined by Mayor Tom Towey and Councilman Gary Schimmels in approving the emergency amendment.