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Higgins wins coin flip for Spokane Valley seat


New council member previously on planning commission

After weeks of applications, interviews and discussion, it all came down to the flip of a coin.

Rod Higgins was appointed to the Spokane Valley City Council Tuesday after a coin toss broke three consecutive tie votes between Higgins and Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council executive director Linda Thompson. The council followed procedure and assigned heads to Higgins because his last name comes first alphabetically. City Manager Mike Jackson flipped a dollar coin in the air, which came up heads.

Council members Dean Grafos, Arne Woodard and Chuck Hafner voted to appoint Higgins to the seat vacated by the resignation of Brenda Grassel. Mayor Tom Towey and council members Gary Schimmels and Ben Wick voted for Thompson.

Higgins, who has served on the city’s planning commission for the past year, was sworn in and took his seat on the dais.

“It’s a very interesting procedure,” Higgins said during a break in the meeting. “I would say the interview was quite nerve-wracking.”

Higgins, 70, ran for City Council in 2011. When campaign signs first started appearing he called Grassel to ask for information on the candidates. “I supported her when she ran,” Higgins said. “I really didn’t know her all that well, but I respected her opinion.”

Grassel gave him the information and also encouraged him to run for office, he said. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said.

In other business, the council discussed how to deal with properties with split zoning and multi-family zoning. The council advised city staff to handle each on a case-by-case basis.

There are 11 properties in Spokane Valley with split zoning, said senior planner Mike Basinger. Several are along Trent Avenue. “Some of these parcels are long and narrow and reach deep into residential areas,” he said. In those cases the part of the property along Trent is zoned for commercial use and the back part is zoned residential. There’s no easy way to determine how those properties should be zoned without knowing what plans the property owners might have, Basinger said. “We could handle this through boundary line adjustments or subdivisions,” he said.

The split zoning was inherited from Spokane County and Basinger said he was told by the county that the properties were split on purpose because they didn’t want commercial uses in a residential area.

Grafos said he favored handling the issue with a city code text amendment that could provide guidance on how to handle such decisions. “We could look at whether it is appropriate to change the zoning,” he said. “It would allow us to handle this on a project basis. To me that makes a lot of sense.”

Woodard said he favored handling the issue on a case-by-case basis. “I would hate to downzone anything,” Woodard said. “We’re talking some fairly good sized pieces or property. I’d rather be a little more flexible.”

The city has received several requests in recent years to rezone property high density residential. Basinger asked the council if they were interested in looking at increasing land in the city zoned for multi-family residential. There are currently 573 acres of vacant land in the city zoned for multi-family, he said. Eight parcels are larger than 10 acres, he said.

Such zone change requests have been controversial, Basinger said. “We’ll still get kickback,” he said.

The council agreed to leave things as they are and consider any proposed zoning changes that might be proposed by property owners in the future.

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