UPDATE: Land use shenanigans continue as annexation could bring another sea of surface parking to Southgate District

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The conceptual site plan for the South Regal Lumber site from South Regal Street includes a mess of car-oriented retail and another veritable sea of surface parking in an already saturated Southgate District. It’s neither mixed-use nor consistent with a vibrant urban neighborhood district. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning)

Last week, we posted about an absurd land-use situation in Indian Trail that could result in a 1,500-unit housing complex. The post went crazy-viral all over social media. Now we’re back with a similarly-absurd situation at the opposite end of our city, in the Southgate District.

Here, Spokane Housing Ventures, an affordable housing developer with a laudable goal to provide living space to lower-income folks, proposed to annex and re-zone a chunk of its property into the City of Spokane. Spokane Housing Ventures would develop its site into affordable units. Great!

But here’s the problem: the City Council expanded the annexation proposal to include the former South Regal Lumber property. Local developer Cyrus Vaughn would develop this area into several pads for car-oriented commercial spaces, such as fast-food restaurants and coffeeshops, medical offices, and a grocery store space likely focusing on organic products. (Important Update: Despite recent rumors that the proposed grocery might be Whole Foods, this would not square with that retailer’s recent trend toward smaller, more compact, more pedestrian-oriented stores. Whole Foods also tends to prefer more central locations within urban areas. Alternatively, it appears that the retailer in question is actually Natural Grocers, which has recently expanded into the Spokane market with a Northside store.)

In all respects, the Cyrus Vaughn project at the former South Regal Lumber property is a vehicle-oriented development. This despite the fact that the development is located just a block or two from a City of Spokane-designated District Center.

This means that the new property should be zoned “Centers and Corridors” once annexed. But that’s not the plan. Currently, much of the property is zoned “mixed-use,” the strictest zoning regulation in unincorporated Spokane County. In other words, the closest analogous zoning regulation in the City of Spokane would by “Centers and Corridors.” The annexation process, inexplicably, proposes to move from these relatively strict guidelines to the lesser guidelines of “Community Business,” allowing car-oriented retail, a sea of surface parking, and a stale, bland, and sprawling urban environment. This can’t happen.

Spokane deserves to grow into a dense, vibrant urban city anchored by strong neighborhood districts. It deserves not to sprawl, but to grow. It deserves a future built on density, improved transportation, and walkable neighborhoods which improve quality of life, public health, and air quality. But that won’t happen without strong land use guidelines anchored by properly-implemented Centers and Corridors. If you agree that Southgate deserves a more strongly urban-designed neighborhood center, share your comments at the City Council Meeting, Monday, February 8 at 6pm. You may also be able to share public commentary by contacting the Planning Department here:

City of Spokane Planning & Development
Attn: Jo Anne Wright
808 W Spokane Falls Blvd
Spokane, WA 99201-3333

It’s time for a vibrant, walkable Southgate District. It’s time for a better Spokane.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you concerned about the continuing disregard for land use regulations and the importance of density in our Comprehensive Plan? Do you think it’s time for a full-scale revamp of the planning document? And are you willing to offer comment to the Spokane City Council with regard to the Southgate annexation? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you.