A standing-room-only crowd watched Tuesday night as the Spokane Valley City Council took the first major step toward killing the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan.
They came even though the result was telegraphed more than a year ago when five “Positive Change” candidates won council seats after promising to do away with SARP.
In a 5-2 vote, with Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey dissenting, the council passed a motion to send the entire SARP plan back to the planning commission for reconsideration.“I want to make it clear that this is not the final decision,” said Kathy McClung, community development director. “It does not determine the planning commission’s decision. This is just the beginning of the public process.”
People in the crowd gave public comment for more than two hours, some arguing for SARP but most said they agreed with the council’s plans. Rich Munson, former mayor and councilman, was a strong supporter of SARP and said the council was within its rights to kill SARP, but questioned whether some council members were “catering to special interests” that contributed to their campaigns. He also said the council has no plan of its own. “I think it’s appalling that you’ve not done something to replace it,” Munson said. “Please reconsider your options. Look at what you’re doing.”
Businessman Dick Behm said some council members appear to make snap decisions to benefit special interests. “This council has been irresponsible,” he said. It is also obvious that some council members “do not do their homework or even read their packet before a meeting,” he said.
Retired school administrator Chuck Hafner, who was part of the Positive Change committee, said e-mails that have been circulating saying the city is doomed if SARP is ditched are “scare tactics.” SARP “does not reflect the culture and customs of the community” and the five Positive Change council members were elected to get rid of it. “We have become a very unfriendly city to business,” he said.
Business owner Karla Kaley said the city needs a plan and a downtown area. “You’ll be setting us up for failure” if SARP is done away with, she said. “It’s been one year in implementation and already you are ready to kill it.” She said SARP is imperfect, but it’s something that can be worked with.
Carlos Landa owns a strip mall at the northwest corner of Sprague and Pines. The building is 80 percent vacant and Landa said he was planning on investing about $250,000 in improvements in the spring, but if the SARP plan is done away with and no plan to encourage revitalization replaces it, he won’t spend the money. “I can let that building rot and go vacant,” he said. “If you want to kill Sprague Avenue, kill it quick.”
Todd Whipple of Whipple Consulting Engineers said he was in favor of the council’s decision because SARP was “too big, too far-reaching.” Grant Rodkey called the plan a “tyrannical edict.”
“SARP is like the Hydra from Greek mythology,” said Steven Neill. “Use torches to sear the head off this monstrosity once and for all.”
Steve Wineinger of Pro Sign said he feared SARP would end badly. “The worst fears that we had have been unfolding,” he said. It is time for the city to cut its losses and move on. “Just because we’ve spent $1.2 million doesn’t mean we have to keep bleeding.”
Several of the people who spoke the most strongly against SARP Tuesday were either on the executive committee of the Friends of Spokane Valley or one of the group’s largest contributors, including Wineinger, Susan Scott, Dan Geiger and Mark Henderson. Councilman Dean Grafos was also on the executive committee. The group formed to lobby against SARP, but later switched its focus to supporting the signature gathering efforts of Citizens for Disincorporation.
Gothmann said in hindsight he realizes that the council tried to take on too much at once, but he agrees that the city needs a new direction. “We need a plan, by all means,” he said. “If it’s not SARP, lay another one on the table. Let’s look past our feet.”
“There is a plan,” said Councilman Bob McCaslin. “The plan is called the private enterprise system. The thing government can do is step out of the way.”
“Those of you that know me know I was not fond of SARP,” said Dempsey. “I felt that it went too far.” But SARP was only in effect for six weeks before the new council took office and wasn’t given a chance, she said. “We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can work with it.”
The previous council’s intentions may have been good but the plan only “created unnecessary dissention,” said Councilwoman Brenda Grassel. The people on the council who have spoken against getting rid of SARP have “no concept of running a business,” she said.
“My concern is the health of the small businesses, not 20 years from now but right now,” said Mayor Tom Towey. He was elected by the people to get rid of SARP, he said. “I am going to honor each and every one of those votes.”
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