Drive-thru businesses are likely headed for a proposed South Hill commercial center, over the objections of neighborhood leaders and the Spokane City Council.
Cyrus Vaughn, a developer and co-owner of Cyrus O’Leary’s Pies, sent Spokane County all the planning paperwork needed to move forward with a 9-acre shopping center at the former Regal Street lumber yard. Last month, the Spokane City Council voted to annex the land, but changed the zoning to prohibit two planned drive-thru restaurants at the corner of Regal Street and 53rd Avenue.
The annexation took effect Saturday, just two days after Vaughn finalized his paperwork with the Spokane County Building and Planning Department. That allows him to proceed under county standards in a process known as vesting.
“This is just how land-use works,” said Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who opposed a zoning recommendation that would have allowed Vaughn to build the drive-thrus under city regulations. “I don’t think there’s any legal recourse.”
Vaughn has said he’s spent nearly $6 million preparing to build the “Regal Commons” development after acquiring the property in October 2013. He believes a minority of property owners in the area oppose his project.
“If we put our plan up and you took it to the 50,000 people that live within 3 miles of there, they would overwhelmingly support us,” Vaughn said.
The City Council’s rejection of the zoning Vaughn wanted was prompted by a legal threat made by Vaughn and his attorney, Bob Dunn, in the run-up to the council’s vote in April. Stuckart said at the time he had been inclined to go along with Vaughn’s desired zoning, then changed his mind after receiving the letter.
Dunn did not return a call requesting comment for this story.
Stuckart said he was frustrated by the length of time it took the council to vote on the zoning, which is part of an annexation that includes a 360-unit affordable housing complex built by Spokane Housing Ventures. The housing nonprofit originally applied for annexation.
A majority on the City Council were swayed by the arguments of the Southgate Neighborhood Council, which argued the drive-thru businesses would bring increased traffic to the area.
Ted Teske, chairman of the neighborhood group, criticized the short timetable in which the county processed Vaughn’s application. The first materials were received by the county’s planning department April 27, according to records, and a 17-page engineer’s review of the project for environmental compliance was completed May 20. County staff determined the review was “technically complete” six days later.
Spokane County commissioners earlier this month authorized legal staff to draft an agreement with the city that would allow county engineers and planners to continue overseeing the regulatory process for development, as long as all materials were turned in by the annexation date.
“Anything that comes in after the effective date would obviously go to the city of Spokane and be subject to their rules and regulations,” Spokane County Planning Director John Pederson told commissioners this month.
Rick Eichstaedt, the executive director of the Center for Justice who has legally represented neighborhoods – including Southgate – in land-use issues with the county, said he was uncertain if the agreement, which has not yet been signed by commissioners and the city, would be legal.
“It’s the city’s property. The city has to do it at that point,” Eichstaedt said.
To legally challenge vesting of the project, Eichstaedt said, the neighborhood or any other opponent would have to prove the application prepared and submitted to county planners was incomplete.
Eichstaedt also questioned the speed of Spokane County in processing Vaughn’s request, saying it represents a continued attitude of development at the expense of neighborhood wishes.
“They aggressively processed this. It just shows their disregard for good planning,” Eichstaedt said. “They certainly wouldn’t have had to process this at this rate.”
The Commons project, barring any legal challenge, is set to begin a two-phased construction within the next 90 days, Vaughn said. Two tenants are interested in moving into the drive-thru locations along Regal Street, which would be built first, he said. A second phase would include a grocery store farther to the east from Regal Street, according to preliminary site plans. Parking for 348 vehicles is expected to be constructed at the site.
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