TONIGHT: Summit for Neighborhood Fairness, Part II

The South Perry District is frequently cited as one of the “most livable” or “best” or “coolest” neighborhoods in Spokane. Will future development follow the pattern of South Perry or Garland, or degrade into surface parking and big-box stores? (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)

Tonight, join community leaders, elected officials, and smart growth advocates at Part Two of the Summit for Neighborhood Fairness. Futurewise Spokane will convene a diverse group of representatives and stakeholders for the second of two public fora on empowering our neighborhoods and prioritizing denser infill development in accordance with existing planning documents. As you’ll recall, the dialogue over smart growth and land use reached a fever pitch last month when it was discovered that Scott Chesney and the Planning Department had approved a building permit for a drive-through-only McDonald’s restaurant on north Hamilton, and that Dave Black had violated Centers and Corridors zoning and the 2009 Developers’ Agreement at his Target development on the South Hill.

Part One of this summit focused on possible policy proposals, while Part Two will focus on choosing the best solutions and crafting a plan toward implementation. It’s clear that land use policy and neighborhood development has quickly become the number one issue in Spokane’s political system. It should be interesting to see where this planning and policy proposal process leads.

  • Join us at the Summit for Neighborhood Fairness, tonight from 5:30p – 7:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. Neighborhood representatives, community leaders, activists, legal experts, and other stakeholders will all be represented.

This Week in Public Meetings: 4/24 – 5/2

At the former U.S. Pavilion, the Parks Board is discussing recovering the structure with a movable dome that could feature revolving light displays or projections. (PHOTO: Spokane Riverfront Park on Facebook)
At the former U.S. Pavilion, the Parks Board is discussing recovering the structure with a movable dome that could feature revolving light displays or projections. (PHOTO: Spokane Riverfront Park on Facebook)

Okay, kinda-sorta a week. A lot of major issues are up for discussion in the coming days, and we urge readers of The #spokanerising Project to make a strong showing in support of our parks, our neighborhoods, and our communities.

Special Parks Board Meeting: Riverfront Park Master Plan. We’ve written extensively in the past about plans for Riverfront Park. Tonight, Thursday, April 24, the Parks Board will be hosting the second public comment period on the Riverfront Park Master Plan. Public testimony will be taken from 6-8pm in the City Council chambers. Free parking is available for participants in the Riverfront Park lots.

Summit for Neighborhood Fairness: Part II (The Strategy). Futurewise Spokane is collaborating with Spokane City Councilmembers, community groups, and neighborhoods to host a forum on possible policy changes that could result in more livable communities and environments. Participants will prioritize proposals and develop a clear strategy for their implementation. This will take place Wednesday, April 30 from 5:30p-7:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. More information is available here.

Proposed Land Use Action: A Workshop for Neighborhoods. Futurewise Spokane will be working with neighborhood groups and its Director of Planning and Law, Tim Trohimovich to enlighten neighborhoods on strategies for land use proposals. Tim will be speaking about navigating the land use process, SEPA, and permitting processes. This will take place Thursday, May 1 at 2:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. More information is available here.

These meetings are important for developing a strategy for Spokane’s future development and planning. We encourage readers to attend and offer a vision of a vibrant, denser, more livable Spokane where people love to live.

Crossroads

Downtown Spokane and the Spokane River is indisputably an incredible sight to behold, especially for first-time visitors. So why have we started accepting mediocrity? What’s with our inferiority complex? (PHOTO: Mike Gass on Flickr)

Since the earliest days of human settlement in the inland Northwest, the region has marked a critical juncture between conflicting forces. In a dramatic fashion, it is here that the dry, barren desert of the Great Basin comes together with the ponderosa pines and snowcapped peaks of the Selkirks. It was here that some of the earliest settlers of the Oregon Territory clashed with the Native peoples who had called this region home for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was here that David Thompson established the first long-term European settlement in what would become Washington state, noting the critical crossroads at which the area lies. It was here that one of the most important railroad centers in the entire western United States decided with Expo ’74 that it wanted something new, something fresh, something better. Indeed, the history of the inland Northwest is positively littered with critical transitions, crossroads, changes, conflicts. They’ve challenged us, renewed us, torn us down, and built us up. They’ve made us what we are.

Well, today, Spokane lies at one such critical crossroads in its history. 

Continue reading “Crossroads”

KXLY land grab at South Complex?

This conceptual site plan for the KXLY site at Regal and Palouse Highway on Spokane's South Hill was presented by KXLY representatives at a Land Committee meeting of the Parks Board.
This draft/conceptual site plan for the KXLY site at Regal and Palouse Highway on Spokane’s South Hill was presented by KXLY representatives at a Land Committee meeting of the Parks Board. Note the plan to build a large mixed-use facility on land currently owned by the Parks Department and relocate the soccer fields to the rear of a new big-box store. Please note that this document is in the public record.

Following up on a tweet from last week, The #spokanerising Project can now report that KXLY representatives are in discussions with the Parks Board for a land swap that could result in a significant change in the recreation and parks facilities offered in the Southgate District, as well as the second of three major big-box developments that have been planned for the area. Please note: these plans have not been submitted to the Planning and Development Office. They represent conceptual drawings for the site that were presented by KXLY at a Land Committee meeting of the Spokane Parks Board in December of 2013.

That meeting resulted in a Letter of Intent, specifying broadly that the Parks Department would enter into an agreement with KXLY to swap land in order to ensure shared access and potentially shared parking. Essentially, the City would agree to swap a piece of land in order to create a shared driveway where the current South Complex parking lot is located, and potentially including the entire east end of the complex, if KXLY chooses to build a mixed-use building. In exchange, KXLY would grant to the Parks Department replacement soccer fields on the west side of their proposed big-box development, near and underneath their AM radio transmitter tower on the site.

Continue reading “KXLY land grab at South Complex?”

Wait, there’s a District Center there? (Lincoln Heights edition)

The Lincoln Heights neighborhood features large-scale commercial (i.e. Petco, JoAnn Fabrics), fast-food restaurants (i.e. McDonald’s, KFC/A&W), and grocery stores (i.e. Safeway, Rosauer’s). Now a collaborative planning process is underway to try and get the center more in line with its District Center zoning.

The Lincoln Heights neighborhood’s primary commercial district, spanning along 29th Avenue from about Southeast Boulevard to about Thor/Ray, is a typical automobile-focused, suburban-style, parking-intense retail development. It is ordinary in every possible way. But did you know that the area is zoned as a District Center under Centers and Corridors?

Yes, despite the fact that 29th Avenue spans four uninviting-to-pedestrians lanes of traffic and that the primary commercial units are built with parking setbacks and drive-through windows, this area is zoned as a District Center. (Which probably gives some insight into the relative success of the City of Spokane’s urban planning efforts.) Under Centers and Corridors, the site is zoned CC2, which means that it should be pedestrian-enhanced and auto-accommodating. Naturally, this begs the question: where are the pedestrian enhancements and improvements?

Exactly the question that the City’s urban planners are asking. The Lincoln Heights area is currently under design and planning review for changes that could improve the pedestrian environment, resulting in more mixed-use buildings and, if we’re lucky, three- to four-story mid-rise architecture. Developers are reportedly in discussions with the City as redevelopment opportunities are assumed to be on the table at the Lincoln Heights Shopping Center and the older center across 29th. While Pita Pit recently moved in, Wheelsport moved out in anticipation of redevelopment spearheaded by Dave Black.

The first neighborhood meeting took place in November of last year, and more are planned for this spring. Last week, representatives from the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council walked the area with city planners in anticipation of the creation of a unified development plan. Those with comments are invite to contact Ken Pelton (kpelton@spokanecity.org), the Principal Planner for this project, or Tirrell Black (tblack@spokanecity.org), the Associate Planner. We at #spokanerising strongly encourage our readers to get involved in this project, email comments, and support a mixed-use development strategy for the neighborhood.

Kendall Yards #Progress: March 23, 2014

This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors.
This mixed-use building at Kendall Yards will feature retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor and two stories of residential lofts on the upper floors. Photo taken March 23, 2014.

Spring has sprung at Kendall Yards. The new urbanist/mixed use development near downtown has taken on a decidedly more urban (and local) feel of late, as Greenstone focuses on three new buildings in the neighborhood’s commercial district. With Yards Bruncheon now complete, construction is focused on Wandering Table next door, a building that will be the new permanent home for Veraci Pizza, and a new three-story mixed use building with streetfront retail and residential units above called the Highline Lofts. While some leases for the building are presumed to be signed, we only have confirmation that Brain Freeze Creamery will occupy the suite closest to Wandering Table on the western-most side of the building.

With all of these local restaurants joining Central Food, it’s pretty clear that the neighborhood has become a venue of choice for homegrown local businesses much more in line with reality than the Marshall Chesrown/Black Rock designs we saw (and salivated over) in 2006. We’re excited to see which tenants are lined up for the almost-complete Highline Lofts building, when a proposed four-story mixed-use building between Veraci Pizza and Spa Paradiso will break ground, and what will become of the rest of the neighborhood, especially with plans for additional surface parking in lieu of underground garages in the commercial district. Just try to keep that aspect to a minimum, okay, Greenstone?

For more construction and progress photos, hop along after the break.

Continue reading “Kendall Yards #Progress: March 23, 2014”

Why Complete Streets are so important

The relative amount of space used by pedestrians, personal vehicles, and buses.
The relative amount of space used by pedestrians, bicyclists, personal vehicles, and buses.

Personal vehicles take up a lot of space. (Just look at the 700-space parking lot currently under construction on the South Hill at Regal and the Palouse Highway that will serve the new Target store.) In the case of parking, that becomes wasted space, unused space, a heat island in a sea of urban and suburban development. On streets, the increased space necessary for vehicles means additional traffic lanes.

So how do we calm traffic congestion if we don’t want to increase parking space or traffic lanes? We encourage pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit. We decrease the “opportunity cost” (in time, in money, in convenience, etc.) of walking, biking, or using transit. This gets more people in alternative uses and decreases the use of costly personal vehicles.

This is why Spokane must commit to Complete Streets. We’ve passed the ordinance, and now’s the time to commit to implementing it. The first test will come in the Southgate District, where the suburban-style Target development has only further congested Regal. Hit the link to see a really well-written description of the issues caused by Target.

What are your thoughts? What are the benefits of “complete streets”-style investments? Does the Southgate District have a case for traffic mitigation above and beyond the light at Regal and the Palouse Highway? Share your thoughts in the comments and on social media. We love to hear from you.

Why not Streetcars?

Spokane’s streetcar grid was as extensive as any on the West Coast, and more extensive than some. It operated for years and years, but now is reduced to a mere memory…if that. (PDF: MetroSpokane)

Did you know that Spokane once hosted one of the most extensive streetcar systems west of the Mississippi? This graphic from MetroSpokane shows us just how extensive it was, extending all the way to 37th in the south and Francis in the north. And this was fifty, sixty, seventy years ago!

Imagine the possibilities of a revitalized streetcar line, even on just a few of these routes. Spokane Transit Authority is working on developing its high-performance transit network plan, but lamentably, the proposal will eschew streetcars in favor of electric trolleybuses in the Central City Line. Electric trolleybuses operate using overhead wires for electricity, but travel via wheels on pavement. On the other hand, streetcars require significant investment in rail placement in order to be effective. And that’s in addition to the wires, which are still required.

Complicating the matter further, the modern electric trolleybuses are not manufactured in the United States, which conflicts with federal “Buy American” standards. It could be years before European manufacturers ramp up a stateside production line, and by then we will have lost out on millions to billions of dollars in potential economic growth and investment related to these transit projects. Meanwhile, United Streetcar is manufacturing modern streetcars right here in the Northwest, in the Portland suburb of Clackamas, Oregon, and vehicular and transit use along the proposed Central City Line in Spokane continues to increase.

Perhaps it’s time we re-thought waiting. Who needs a modern electric trolleybus, anyway? They’re more unsightly (Seattle is thinking about removing theirs), they’re less exciting, and they don’t attract the same levels of transportation-oriented development investment. Let’s go big. Let’s be visionary. Let’s build a streetcar.

If It Had Happened, Part 5: South Hill Walmart

Walmart's south Spokane store would have been built up to the street and would have featured rooftop parking. Please excuse the potato-esque quality of this image. (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)
Walmart’s south Spokane store would have been built up to the street and would have featured rooftop parking. Please excuse the potato-esque quality of this image. (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)

Today we delve into the politics and concerns of a local neighborhood as we revisit perhaps the single most controversial development project in the history of the South Hill. In 2006, big-box retailer Walmart proposed building a massive 186,000 square foot multi-story store at 44th and Regal at Spokane’s outer edge. It was a large project considering the similar developments that had taken place nearby in recent years (Shopko and Albertson’s come to mind) but fascinatingly, the store would have been a first for even Walmart. It would have been smartly-designed to serve what the conglomerate called the neighborhood’s more “upscale” clientele, incorporating design features that few Walmart stores incorporate: windows, streetfront retail, structured and rooftop parking, and the simple addition of building it up to the street.

Understandably, the proposal attracted massive opposition driven by concerns about traffic, crime, property values, and the wholesale effect of adding a mega-store to one of Spokane’s least-developed neighborhoods. 600 people showed up to a traffic planning meeting at the Ferris High School auditorium, where a vocal majority were opposed to the proposal and many chose to direct their anger at representatives seated on-stage. Of course, there was no resolution until the next year, when officials announced that Walmart had abandoned the project, ostensibly due to “interference” from the nearby radio towers on its computer and radio equipment.

But why was the opposition so sharp? Why could Walmart not build, when Target now has a store under construction not far from the 44th and Regal site–especially when the Target being developed is a “prototype,” no-frills store that is not built to the street, features no design and architectural embellishments, and features a 700-vehicle surface lot devoted to the temporary storage of cars?

The answer lies in two dichotomous effects which I will call the Walmart Effect and the Target Effect.

The Walmart Effect refers to a neighborhood’s and an individual’s tendency to oppose Walmart at all costs. Part of this arises from Walmart’s labor practices. The company is well-known for refusing to provide healthcare coverage for its employees and for cutting employees to part-time in order to wiggle its way out of providing healthcare for them. Part of this arises from the well-documented effect that Walmart has on local communities. Walmart, as the poster-child for big-box development, increases crime, decreases neighborhood vitality, decreases property values, increases blight, and overall harms the communities in which it locates.

But here’s the thing: In general, all big-box retailers cause increase crime, decrease neighborhood vitality, decrease property values, increase blight, and harm the communities in which they locate. It’s not limited to Walmart. Walmart simply receives the brunt of the blame because it is the poster-child for big-box development.

Which brings us to the Target Effect. This counter-effect arises as a direct result of disdain for Walmart. People like Target because they think it provide a more upscale product than Walmart (it doesn’t), because it benefits communities (it doesn’t), because it is more willing to provide architectural and design changes (it isn’t), and because it provides better compensation and healthcare to its employees (it doesn’t). Target is no better than Walmart, but receives less opposition simply because it isn’t Walmart.

As such, the South Hill is poised to gain a true big-box store in Target when Walmart, by contrast, was more than willing to work with the neighborhood on a more civically-minded, urban-designed store. This would have set a crucial precedent for other stores interested in locating in the area. Work with the neighborhood or fail. Period.

Paradoxical (and theoretical) Conclusion: If the proposed-in-2006 Walmart had been built, then South Regal and the Southgate District might just look today more like Kendall Yards than Northpointe. Or at least, its development plan might look more like Kendall Yards than Northpointe, or perhaps an amalgamation of the two. Really. If it had been built, developers would be less able to compromise with the neighborhood. The Target site would have been developed in a more urban-designed fashion with buildings up to the street and structured or underground parking. Housing might have even been in the mix. And we just might have seen a neighborhood designed not just for profit, but with at least one foot in the figurative door of new urbanism. Shame it couldn’t have happened differently.

Do you agree? Do you think that the more carefully-designed Walmart store could have served as a model for other retailers locating in the Southgate District? What about the Target Effect and the Walmart Effect? Are they fair descriptions? Share your thoughts on this story by commenting, tweeting, posting, and hashtagging away!

Legislature Considers an End to Development Vesting

PHOTO: The Inlander

The Washington State Legislature is currently considering a proposal to end the vesting of developments started during formal appeals of Urban Growth Area expansions. The proposed laws, H.B. 2234 and H.B. 2245, would prevent the types of situations which occurred in 2013 when the Spokane County Commissioners expanded the Urban Growth Area against the objections of numerous community leaders, state and local governments, and neighborhood groups.

Currently, under the state’s Growth Management Act, developers can “vest” projects under the existing rules, even when an appeal is being heard by the Hearings Board. That means that if the County Commission approves an Urban Growth Area expansion, and that decision is appealed to the state, the County must still accept the permits and applications submitted during the gap between the application and appeals hearing. In other words, developers would not be able to use this “back door” method to getting their projects completed, and would be on hold until the appeal is resolved.

The appeal of the 2013 Spokane UGA expansion brought together concerned citizens, community groups like Southgate and Five Mile, and organizations like the Center for Justice. In the end, the appeal won, but 640 lots still made it into the UGA due to vesting. These bills would change that.

We urge you to write to your representatives in support of these bills.

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