April 15, 2014 in City

Following uproar over McDonald’s, Council imposes moratorium

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Beth Hyland, left, and her sister Donna Higgins Merkeley cross Hamilton Street at Augusta Avenue on March 28 to attend a press conference concerning the construction of a McDonald’s at that corner. Their family home sits two houses from the construction site on Augusta.
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Responding to community uproar over a planned McDonald’s drive-thru restaurant near Gonzaga University, the Spokane City Council this week imposed an emergency six-month moratorium on similar projects along Hamilton Street in the Logan neighborhood.

It’s a largely symbolic effort since the moratorium won’t stop construction of the drive-thru at Augusta Avenue and North Hamilton Street, nor are there any other similar projects in the pre-planning stages at this point.

But it gives the neighborhood an opportunity to put the finishing touches on new development standards intended to promote a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

“We have some holes in our current … design standards,” said Councilwoman Amber Waldref, whose district includes the Logan neighborhood. “What we found with the McDonald’s development is that there’s clearly some inconsistencies.”

The moratorium was approved Monday night on a 6-1 vote. Councilman Steve Salvatori supported the concept but opposed the measure, saying he would have preferred at least a one-week notice of the proposed changes.

Council President Ben Stuckart, however, defended the secrecy surrounding development of the proposed moratorium as necessary given the state’s permissive “vesting” laws for developers.

Stuckart said advance notice could render the moratorium moot because developers who are able to quickly obtain permits for projects in the targeted area would possess a vested right to simply ignore the new standards that the city and neighborhood leaders have been working on for nearly a year. Those new standards are expected to win council approval when they’re submitted for consideration in the coming weeks.

Waldref said the city’s Planning Department advised that it’s unaware of any potential projects even in the pre-planning stages that would be affected.

Under the moratorium, city planners are now prohibited from issuing permits for any commercial projects along Hamilton Street in the Logan neighborhood that feature drive-thru service or involve buildings set back from the street. The city will be required to hold a public hearing within 60 days but council members expect that the new development standards could be approved by then and the moratorium could be lifted.

The neighborhood wants commercial buildings located along the street, with parking in back, and designed in a way that helps encourage walking and bicycling in the area.

More than a year ago, residents teamed up with the city Planning Department to codify the approach by using form-based zoning for the area around the intersection of North Hamilton Street and East Mission Avenue. Form-based zoning code relies on the physical structures – buildings, streets, sidewalks – already in the neighborhood to determine how development occurs instead of focusing on generic separation of uses such as commercial and residential.

At least two developers in the area, after being advised of the form-based standards being created, respected the restrictions and designed site plans recently that accomplished the neighborhood’s goals, Waldref said.

McDonald’s challenged the design requirements and won city approval to proceed with a fast food restaurant that features only drive-up and walk-up windows and a building that will be set away from the street. It’s set to open in June.

As soon as the project became known, Waldref said she received calls from other developers angry that they were held to a higher standard than McDonald’s.


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