Thursday, April 28, 2011

SARP receives a death blow

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 9:25 AM

It took six years and $1 million to create. It became the law of the land in the Spokane Valley in October of 2009, and opposition to it got five city council members elected a month later.

But after Tuesday night's vote, the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan is now undeniably, sincerely, definitely dead.

“It’s gone,” says Dean Grafos, Spokane Valley City Councilman and longtime SARP opponent.

To review: The previous Spokane Valley City Council overlaid SARP, a 30-year zoning plan to spur development in the city, on top of the city’s comprehensive plan. It changed how certain areas along the Sprague and Appleway arterials were zoned, with the purpose of, for example, concentrating auto dealerships in one location, concentrating retailers towards intersections, and creating a city center near the University City shopping center.

Previous businesses were grandfathered in. The zoning would only apply to new businesses if one year passed between vacancy and new ownership.

But despite that, a number of businesses along the strip revolted. Suddenly, their businesses were being treated as “non-conforming." Vacancy rates had been climbing in Spokane Valley for years, but SARP critics believed SARP’s strict zoning only exacerbated the problem.

In 2009, five city council candidates, known as the “Positive Change” bloc, ran to eliminate SARP. Each of them was elected.

True to their word, they consistently and repeatedly voted against SARP. Most votes were 5-2, with council members Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey in the minority.

At Tuesday's council meeting, SARP was “deleted” from the city’s subarea plan and the city zoning map was changed to reflect that. With a few specific exceptions, the city zoning in the area will return to what it was before Oct. 2009.

"Well, I do think the reasons that SARP came about still exist. We have a depressed Sprague area,” says Bill Gothmann, the one council member who did not vote to eliminate it. "I’ve heard there’s a plan for Sprague. I haven’t seen one."

This is only the final blow. On Oct. 26 of last year, the council voted to pass an emergency comprehensive plan amendment to specifically eliminate SARP's restrictive city center zoning. The Pring Corporation wanted to buy property from Jim Magnuson’s University City, and turn it into a car lot — something that would be problematic under SARP’s Zoning. Despite objections from most of the planning commission, the ordinance went through.

In the past year, SARP opponents solidified their power on the council even further. 

This February, Rose Dempsey resigned, feeling that she could no longer make a difference. She was replaced by Arne Woodard, one of only two planning commissioners who supported eliminating SARP. Gothmann does not plan to run for reelection.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Chuck Hafner, the Positive Change campaign’s coordinator, made it to the top three among applicants the city council will interview to determine who will replace the late Bob McCaslin. Hafner is a former employee of Jack Pring, the owner of the corporation that catalyzed the emergency elimination of the city center zoning.

Over the next year, Grafos says, there are several ways to determine if the council’s decision to eliminate SARP was worthwhile.

“You’ll have to see some economic activity,” Grafos says. “We’ll have to see where the city is at, as far as its tax revenues. We’ll have to see how we’re competing against other municipalities.”

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