A closer look at three important ways to improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan

Master Plan.png
This is the site plan for the Jensen-Byrd District, as proposed by JB Development, a partnership between Wally Trace and McKinstry. A few changes would dramatically improve the development plan for the site, making it more inviting for the next fifty-plus years. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

When the Jensen-Byrd District plan was revealed in full for the first time last week, we rightfully noted the spectacular form and scale that the plan took. At 250,000 square feet, it’s the largest downtown Spokane development in nearly a generation. And by including space well-suited for high-tech and biotech companies, it could mark a turning point in Spokane’s overall economy.

But it’s important to note also that the site plan has some significant pain-points, challenges which we expect to be resolved before the developer is granted a building permit. It’s easy to forget that once a building is built, it’s likely to remain there for at the very minimum, fifty years (well, most of the time). That’s why we need to ensure that this development is held to a high standard: the University District is intended to drive Spokane’s economy in the 21st century and beyond. To create a place fit for the next fifty-plus years, we need to do better than the current plan. Here are some concrete steps to making that happen.

1. Create a better, more inviting, and more distinct north landing for the University District Pedestrian Bridge. In the current plan, a pedestrian crossing the bridge northbound will land facing the parking garage, where it’s unclear whether there will be a clear path forward to the Jensen-Byrd Building itself. At this landing, there should be some wayfinding information, as well as other active space, such as retail on the first floor of the parking garage. Imagine an inviting cafe or coffeehouse with outdoor seating and programmable space. There should also be an easy path through the parking garage to the Jensen-Byrd. (It appears that there may be an alleyway of some kind for this purpose; how could this alley be made more inviting for pedestrians? Overhead lights? Restaurant space a la Mizuna?)

2. Develop a phased master plan for the overall site, including development for the surface parking lots included in the current site plan. There’s zero justification for the surface parking lots to remain on the site plan, given the 450-space parking garage included in the first phase. This land would be better put to use in the interim as open space or public parkland; in the future, it should be developed to support the continued growth of the University District. As of now, however, we don’t know when or whether that will happen. This planning and building approval process should include specific planning for these sites.

3. Repave the section of Main Street in front of the Jensen-Byrd Building with brick, and close it to vehicles, to create a more inviting pedestrian landscape and a plaza of sorts for events and special occasions. Even if the street is not closed to vehicles, it would be more vibrant, more interesting, and more programmable if paved with brick. Imagine Friday food truck gardens or Saturday farmers’ markets on this site. Paved with brick, this could become a huge selling point to any potential tenant of the Jensen-Byrd District development.

Overall, these three changes could go a long way toward improving the Jensen-Byrd District plan. It’s unclear what degree of flexibility to public comment the developers will have, but it’s worth a shot. Fortunately, it’s likely that design review will be required for this project. We will share information on public comment when it becomes available.

In the meantime, your best bet to offer feedback for the project is to use the comment form on the development’s website. Be sure to select “other” for the contact category so it’s directed to the right people. Perhaps we can make a difference in improving this project.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Would these improvements help improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan to make it more future-proof and vibrant? Would you approve of a better connection from the Pedestrian Bridge, given the large amount of public funding going to that project? What about brick paving for Main Ave? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

 

Almost one quarter of downtown Spokane is occupied by surface parking

There are 295 acres of surface parking in Spokane’s urban core.

There are only 1,250 acres of land in the urban core.

That means that 23.6% of all of the land in Spokane’s urban core is occupied solely by the temporary storage of motor vehicles.

If we assume a ridiculously-conservative average density of 25 units per acre, we could infill these parking lots with as many as 7,500 housing units. To put that in perspective, the full build-out of Kendall Yards will include just 1,000 units. (Just 300 housing units have been built in that neighborhood to-date.) Now, not every available block will be occupied by residences; other uses, like office, retail, public squares, civic spaces, are necessary as well. But it’s a useful thought exercise.

This is the next frontier of Spokane development. There’s more space available downtown for redevelopment than three Kendall Yards (which is an 83-acre site). With this much available space, there’s ample opportunity for creativity and innovation in the local development team.

Among other strategies, perhaps we could at the very least compile a comprehensive database of potential infill sites. This database should include information on the ownership of the various parcels, incentives available for redevelopment, and various statistics, like median income in the area, information on available utilities, and nearby amenities. In addition, include information on the planning and development process for these parcels. What type of permit review would be necessary? Would a SEPA application be required? Think of it as a more in-depth version of a site-selector. The result would be a much clearer development picture for developers and investors.

Continue reading “Almost one quarter of downtown Spokane is occupied by surface parking”

Urban infill “Hamilton Project” takes next step toward construction with SEPA application

Preliminary drawings from Spokane's permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)
Preliminary drawings from Spokane’s permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)

We tend not to post on Spokane Rising about projects that have not yet been announced publicly, but this one just happened to catch our eye on the City of Spokane’s Citizen Access permitting website. We noticed the “Hamilton Project,” as it is named in the permitting database, a few months ago, when developer Ferdinand CJF, LLC applied for a Pre-Development Conference (typically a first, optional step in the building process). But now the Washington State-registered LLC has applied for a SEPA Review, which indicates a level of seriousness we have not yet seen at this parcel.

The project is located at 1002 N Hamilton, which is just across the street from the parking lot for Gonzaga University’s Madonna residence hall. Mercifully, the project seems to adhere to the Hamilton Corridor Form-Based Code (PDF link) despite its location outside of the applicability area. That means that it includes a mixed-use design, a limited street setback, and parking in the rear of the facility. Project plans include 51 residential units above over 17,000 square feet of leasable streetfront retail at a cost of over $11 million. Perhaps most importantly, the project scale and architectural design seems to fit in with the surrounding area. When we first saw the renderings, we thought we were looking at Gonzaga’s Coughlin residence hall, which shares a similar brick-and-stucco construction. Either way, we can’t wait to see this project come to fruition and will continue to keep our readers updated as it passes through the plan review and building permit application process.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you excited to see such a substantial mixed-use project on the Hamilton Corridor? Do you see the Hamilton Corridor emerging in the future as a viable neighborhood center a la Garland or North Monroe? Do you see this as a triumph for advocates of infill? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, in the comments section below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Mobile Murals site at 3rd and Division apparently set for pseudo-strip mall

The proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an "urban form," instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning's Citizen Access System)
The Santillanes’ proposed development at 3rd and Division eschews any attempt at an “urban form,” instead falling back on more suburban-style amenities and features, such as 46 parking spaces. (PHOTO: Spokane Planning’s Citizen Access System)

First, the good news: it appears that the Mobile Murals won’t need to be around 3rd and Division for much longer, as a local developer plans to break ground on a new project there. Now, the bad news: said project will eschew any semblance of urban form in favor of a more suburban, strip mall-esque design.

Recall that local hoteliers Rita and John Santillanes, planning to build a Best Western Peppertree, purchased the lot in 2008 and moved quickly to demolish the existing Lutheran church that was on the premises. Funding fell through late in the year when Bank of Whitman collapsed. It never returned. Last year, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, City of Spokane, and Spokane Arts partnered, and along with other community groups like Spokane Rising, built temporary murals to create a more vibrant and exciting gateway to downtown than the rebar and concrete that had plagued the site for the preceding six years.

Now, Santillanes says she’s ready to restart development at the site. It won’t be a hotel; the nearly-complete Davenport Grand scuttled those plans. Instead, the two have planned a $2 million two-story mixed office/retail building, which will become the home of operations for their four Best Western Peppertree Inns. Office space will occupy the second floor, while Brooke Baker, of the presumed contractor, Baker Construction, hopes to find a fast casual restaurant (a la Chipotle) to occupy one of the several ground-floor retail slots. Great news, right? After all, now the lot won’t be filled with ugly urban decay and the Mobile Murals can move on to another unsightly empty lot.

Wrong. See the above tentative site plan from the Pre-Development Conference hosted with the City of Spokane’s Planning & Development Services Department. Note that the building is set back from the corner at 3rd and Division, features an obscene 46 parking stalls, includes a drive-through window, and includes few if any urban design elements. Now, we have not yet seen renderings, but as it stands, the design is “standard” in every sense of the term. Moreover, it conflicts with the principles set forth in the Division Street Gateway project, which seeks to improve pedestrian access/safety and beautify Spokane’s most important intersection. We can’t help but feel that this project flies in the face of those goals.

Luckily, there’s a simple fix. All Santillanes must do to improve the building, create a better pedestrian experience, and ensure that downtown Spokane does not become an extension of East Sprague or North Division, is construct this building to the corner, with parking in the rear. It’s a simple fix, but it’s one that would work, and it’s one that would make a difference for times to come in visitors’ first impressions of Spokane. Construction is anticipated to begin in May. Can we make a difference? Shout loud and clear to your nearest City Councilperson (click on the name of yours for contact information) that you think downtown Spokane deserves better. Contact the Planning Department directly. Or, better yet, the developers, Rita and John Santillanes. We can build a better downtown. The first step? Refusal to accept continued mediocrity.

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.

Downtown Spokane’s parking surplus

Surface parking lots take up a considerable portion of downtown Spokane; seen here in red. Green represents Walt Worthy's under-construction Convention Center Hotel. (PHOTO: Google Maps)
Surface parking lots take up a considerable portion of downtown Spokane; seen here in red. Green represents Walt Worthy’s under-construction Convention Center Hotel. This is obviously an imprecise study. (PHOTO: Google Maps)

Look at all that space devoted to the temporary storage of vehicles. And that’s not even all of it! That’s just a small sampling of the surface parking lots located north of the railroad viaduct in downtown Spokane. I’m aware that I missed a few in West Downtown, but this paints a stark picture of an unfortunate reality. Surface parking diminishes urban vitality and wastes valuable space. Structured parking, while more expensive, is also more dense, and can allow for innovative first-floor retail and offices, or residences located above the parking.

In Spokane, speculative buyers have snatched up surface parking lots on prime development sites, knowing that their value will only increase in coming years. But this creates a problem: lots aren’t sold because the owners want too much for them, and developers wouldn’t be able to turn a profit at higher land costs. As a result, we get gridlock. Perhaps the issue could be at least partially solved by creating a public development commission or other authority with the power to buy up underutilized properties and sell them directly to the developers with the strongest and most realistic proposals for the sites. Portland has had tremendous success with this model, revitalizing neighborhood urban districts and breathing fresh life into its downtown area.

One site in particular that we’d like to see developed is the two-block surface parking lot centered at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Stevens (the lot between the Bennett Block and the Liberty Building). The Bennett Block is undergoing a major renovation, and the site seems prime for a residential mixed-use high-rise or two with abundant glass and perhaps One Lakeside-esque balconies. Who wants to make it happen?

What do you think? Does Spokane have too much surface parking? Could our city be better served by building out our parking lots and better economizing space? What about the idea of a public development commission? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook, and in conversation.