Documents show that Spokane County planning staff worked closely with a developer who wants to build controversial drive-thru restaurants on the South Hill to make sure the plans moved ahead before the project fell under control of the city.
Developer Cyrus Vaughn has appealed the Spokane City Council’s decision in April to annex the 9-acre plot where he plans to build two drive-thru restaurants, a grocery store and other office buildings.
But Vaughn worked feverishly in the days before the land was annexed by the city to get his application approved by the county, “vesting” it under more favorable development rules.
In emails obtained through a public records request between Dwight Hume, the agent representing Vaughn, and county staff, Hume seeks assurances the county will complete its work by the May 28 deadline, when the city took control of the land.
“I believe we have the support of the (Board of County Commissioners) as Cyrus met individually with each of them a few weeks ago and informed them of the intent to submit and vest,” Hume wrote in a May 25 email to Randy Vissia, the county’s building and code enforcement director. “Each of them assured Cyrus that the County would do their part if we do ours. In the interim, our architects and engineers have literally spent nights and weekends working toward a deadline that gave you the room to go through the plans and conclude that they are indeed a complete package before the annexation date of May 28th.”
“Just a heads up, to make sure the County does their part,” Hume wrote in a conclusion to that email.
He did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
In a response, Vissia refers to at least one member of the county’s Building and Planning Department arriving at the office at 6 a.m. the following day to continue reviewing the plans. Building and Planning staff say one employee worked an hour and a half of overtime in processing the application, at a cost of $79.26.
Neighbors of the proposed development, at the corner of Regal Street and 53rd Avenue, have been critical of the county’s speedy processing of Vaughn’s application for the development. The Southgate Neighborhood Council believes the project should have had more public input before county planners deemed the plans “technically complete.”
Neighbors also dispute the amount of traffic Vaughn said would be generated by the project, seizing on a comment he made that one of the drive-thru restaurants could be fried chicken chain Chick-fil-A.
The neighborhood council points to news coverage of the opening of the first Chick-fil-A restaurant in Bellingham, Washington, which prompted lane closures and additional police officers to herd vehicles through the drive-thru.
“Mr. Vaughn was proud of the fact, it would be a traffic generator, which is good for business,” said Ted Teske, chairman of the neighborhood council.
In a phone interview this week, Vaughn said the chances of attracting Chick-fil-A to the South Hill location were “very slight,” and that the chain would more likely seek a location along Division Street for its first restaurant in Spokane. Vaughn – who also owns Cyrus O’Leary’s Pies – said he was still seeking tenants for the drive-thru restaurant spaces.
Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said the commission has no further say in the approval of the project, after the land was annexed. She also vehemently denied that political contributions from Vaughn to her re-election campaign were tied to the development project. Vaughn gave the maximum amount of $2,000 for the primary and general elections, the second of which was given June 29, after county planners had greenlighted Vaughn’s application.
“No one can buy my vote,” O’Quinn said.
Vaughn has frequently given to political campaigns over the past decade, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, including $900 to Candace Mumm in her 2013 bid for Spokane City Council. Mumm is running for a commissioner seat in the northern district of Spokane County as a Democrat. O’Quinn seeks re-election as a Republican.
“I backed her four years ago, and I’ll back her indefinitely,” said Vaughn, who gave O’Quinn $600 in her first campaign in 2012. He has made no other contributions during this election cycle, according to the disclosure commission.
Now, the city of Spokane is hoping to regain some oversight over the project.
Spokane County commissioners had initially wanted county staff to continue overseeing it, but City Councilman Breean Beggs said council members preferred city planners do that.
“The city is retaining all jurisdiction,” Beggs said, adding county planning staff will be available to provide guidance and answer questions, but their answers won’t be binding.
“The neighborhood wants the city’s discretion to be exercised,” Beggs said.
John Pederson, the county’s planning director, said Friday no agreement had been finalized on the role the county would play in processing Vaughn’s permits.
“It’s still kind of a work in progress,” Pederson said.
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