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Boxing Match 

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here should have been a bell, one with a penetrating ring to mark the end of each 3-minute round of testimony in the basement of City Hall.

And some hazy blue strata of cigar smoke would have been fitting as the punchy City Council meeting sprawled across Monday evening and staggered into Tuesday morning in an exhausting brawl over siting a Home Depot and other land use questions.

It ended in a no decision. The council voted to allow more written testimony until June 23, with another hearing scheduled for that night's council meeting.

Dozens of people took turns hammering out point-counterpoint on the prospect of bringing a Home Depot and other intense commercial development on three parcels at 44th and Regal that are still so open that cattle can be seen grazing amid the surrounding apartment complexes and retail strips.

"This is a textbook (commercial) center," says land-use attorney Stacy Bjordahl, a former Spokane County planner representing the developers. "As a 'recovering planner,' this is what you want -- commercial, blending into multi-family, blending into single family."

But this project has been anything but rosy, with development proponents locked in some sort of a clinch with neighborhood residents at various venues of the city planning process for three years.

At one point, Southgate Neighborhood Council member Cheryl Gwinn wanted to read a letter to the council, one co-authored by Leroy Eadie in 2005. Today, Eadie is director of the city's Planning Services, who endorses big-box commercial development on the parcels.

In 2005, Gwinn read, Eadie was a city planner who co-wrote to developer Dave Black that, "this density will not be allowed ..." and "... it is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan."

The bones of this fight are buried in the city's comprehensive plan, which advocates "centers and corridors" to integrate commercial development throughout Spokane.

Eadie and city planning staff support the proposal for 44th and Regal as a district center that can be OK'd right now. The city's volunteer Planning Commission delivered a K.O. (specifically a technical knockout) in December. The route to get a district center is through a neighborhood planning process, the commission voted.

Home Depot's Seattle attorney Glenn Amster wasted no time in tagging the City Council with a sharp jab, saying in his first sentence of testimony that the planning commission decision not only "is wrong, it is illegal."

But Gwinn delivered another roundhouse for the Southgate corner when she laid a sheet of paper on an overhead projector so all could read a highlighted passage from the comprehensive plan on neighborhood centers, to wit: "... the exact location, boundaries, mix of land uses ... should be determined through the neighborhood planning process."

The back-and-forth got hot at times, with one person ejected by Council President Joe Shogan after not-so-sotto-voce calling the hearing "a monkey court."

The issue is hot enough that Mayor Mary Verner and the two south-side councilmen, Richard Rush and Michael Allen, have been working since February to get developers and residents to reach agreement. This culminated in a two-day "charrette" last weekend where, despite some encouraging dialogue, the parties failed to reach a breakthrough.

Dave Black, owner of one of the three parcels, noted that he -- and his father before him -- faced opposition to every one of the now-landmark South Hill developments ever proposed. Opponents, Black says, "end up shopping at our shops."

Deborah Brooks, owner of 2nd Look Books, riffed on this. "What if 2nd Look moved to the new center -- it sounds so good -- is the city prepared for the next issue? Is Lincoln Heights to be the next U-City?"

In a slide that resembles a Venn diagram, Brooks' husband, Kerry, showed the South Hill already has three nearly overlapping commercial centers at 29th and Grand, 29th and Regal and 57th and Regal.

The council expects to decide June 30 if there is room for another.

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