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!

Idea #8: A Dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division

(PHOTO: Greater Greater Washington)

Today we get specific in our run-down of our ideas for the greater Spokane area. We envision a dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division Street from downtown to the “Y” or even beyond. Such a lane could be implemented to improve traffic flow, lower emissions, and decrease commute times. With a virtual sea of lanes already in existence on Division, and with many vehicles carrying two or more passengers, the conversion of one lane could make a world of difference.

In other cities, such as Sunnyvale, CA and other areas of the Silicon Valley, similar HOV/Transit Lanes have been implemented in the right-most lane, with right-turns permitted from that lane. Other places implement the dedicated lanes in the left-most lane, targeting the facility toward commuters who must travel long distances on that street.

Either way, we suggest that an HOV/Transit lane be fully studied in order to determine the possibilities that it could offer in terms of reducing and calming traffic.

What do you think? Could an HOV/Transit lane make a difference in combatting traffic? Would it be beneficial to study this idea further? Would syncing the lights on Division be a better use of dollars? Let us know in the comments and in social media on Facebook and Twitter. We want to hear from you!

The #spokanerising Glossary

PHOTO: CLPhoto

Naturally, urban planning and development is confusing subject for some. It’s not exactly accessible; often, plans and documents are not publicly-available. Then, once you actually get your hands on the documents themselves, they aren’t exactly made for ordinary citizens to easily understand. But planning should be simple; after all, it’s foremost about interactions between people and the built environment. Our goal as a blog is to make these subjects as clear-cut and simple as possible. So today we’re starting a Spokane Urban Development Glossary.

In the near future, this post will turn to a page, which will be easily accessible at all times from the navigation bar. We’ll cover terms specific to urban development, acronyms and plans specific to Spokane, and our own embellishments which we may occasionally add to stories. Some of these embellishments are taken from a variety of sources, including MetroSpokane, the original Spokane development blog from which The #spokanerising Project arguably succeeds. We do this to further reflect our own point of view; that is, that planned development is something to be cherished, and that mixed-use should be preferred to auto-oriented big-box stores and strip malls. In addition, we believe that the Spokane Comprehensive Plan and the guidelines set forth in Centers and Corridors should guide all approved projects within the city. Now, that’s a lot of words. But what do they all mean?

URBAN PLANNING TERMS:

built environment: the human-made surroundings which provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings to parks and green space, or from neighborhoods to cities.

mixed-use development: development projects which focus on two or more uses within the site; for example, a building may feature ground floor street-front retail shops and restaurants with apartments on the upper floors.

amenity: aesthetic or other characteristics of a development, either natural or manmade, that increase its desirability to a community or its marketability to the public; for example, a unified building design, recreational facilities, and public art would all be characterized as amenities

infill: generally mixed-use style development which occurs on previously-disturbed land or non-disturbed land within an existing urban area; significant because it does not contribute to urban sprawl.

brownfield: abandoned or underutilized industrial or commercial facilities or sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination; for example, Kendall Yards was a brownfield.

SPOKANE-SPECIFIC TERMS/ACRONYMS:

East Sprague Revitalization Project: a project to extensively revitalize East Sprague between Division and Altamont through streetscape enhancements, buffers, facade improvements, etc.

Division Street Gateway: a project planned to extensively revitalize the entry areas to downtown Spokane via Division Street through streetscape enhancements, pedestrian connections, improved signage, etc.

Kendall Yards: large mixed-use project currently being developed by Greenstone between Monroe and beyond Maple on the Spokane River’s North Bank; largest infill project in Spokane’s history.

Walt Worthy: major downtown hotel developer and owner/operator of the Davenport Hotel Collection; currently constructing a Convention Center Hotel directly south of the INB Performing Arts Center.

Centers and Corridors: the document which guides development in areas zoned “Centers and Corridors” (CC1, CC2, CC3); generally an exciting zoning guideline which emphasizes pedestrian uses and “accommodation” or automobiles.

Spokane Comprehensive Plan: the document which guides development in all areas of Spokane, including the types of uses allowed in each zoning guideline and various transit/street plans.

QUIRKY TERMS UNIQUE TO #SPOKANERISING:

the temporary storage of cars: derogatory term for parking, used especially often downtown

the All-Managing Rhombus: Diamond Parking; generally a derogatory term which refers to the unfortunate fact that Diamond Parking manages most of the surface lots in Spokane devoted to the temporary storage of cars; because Diamond Parking has a vested interest in its parking holdings, it generally prefers that these sites, which are prime opportunities for mixed-use infill, not be developed.

To be continued…

Link Spokane: An Integrated Approach to Planning

PHOTO: The Inlander

In 2014, the Spokane Comprehensive Plan, essentially the guiding document for all development that takes place in the city, will be extensively revised. As part of this major initiative, the City has unveiled Link Spokane, the integrated transportation and utility component of the Comprehensive Plan, in a surprisingly well-produced brochure.

The plan makes note of various “best practices” in comprehensive transportation and utilities planning, even citing such case studies as the Crestline project, which took place during the summer and fall of 2013. That project brought a new road surface, 36-inch water main, and various utilities and stormwater improvements and enhancements as part of the City of Spokane’s new integrative approach to investment.

In addition, the document addresses plans for transit enhancements, from bus rapid transit (which we oppose as a sole solution) to streetcars. Interestingly, it does not address the need for a major region-wide transit improvement like light rail, which was narrowly rejected by voters in 2006 in an advisory vote and has not since gotten much attention from groups outside of InlandRail. Still, light rail as a concept remains exceptionally tantalizing, especially given studies that show that bus rapid transit and other “non-fixed” transit modes result in less transit-oriented development than similar fixed modes, such as light rail, heavy rail, and rapid transit. Unfortunately, it seems that short-sightedness within the revised Comprehensive Plan will again rule the day.

To voice your concerns and express your support for regional light rail and city-wide transit and transportation investment as part of a holistic Comprehensive Plan, you can attend one of several drop-in community workshops.

  • Tuesday, February 4 from 4:00p-6:30p at the NorthTown Mall Division Street Entrance (Level 1)
  • Wednesday, February 5 from 12:00p-6:30p at Southside Christian Church (2934 E 27th Ave)
  • Friday, February 7 from 11:30a-6:30p at River Park Square on the Lakes

In addition, on Thursday, February 6 from 6:00p-7:00p, you can watch live on CityCable5 and call-in to voice your concerns.

We are a growing Spokane, and we deserve a transit system that understands these realities. It’s time for transportation investment that recognizes the potential that exists when bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcars, electric trolley buses, traditional buses, and all other modes work together. It’s time for us to build a better Spokane.

Shame on you, KHQ

A recognizable voice takes on a hostile inflection. Provocative questions are raised as questions appear on-screen. “More state funding is needed…but at what cost? And why does Spokane need this when STA routes are already in place?”

Barring the fallacious nature of that question (Who or what gives KHQ the authority to say that STA has sufficient route coverage? Isn’t that for STA and urban planners to decide?), it is clear the KHQ has overstepped its bounds with the promotion of this story. The role of the news media is to inform the public; not inform the public opinion. By taking a clearly anti-trolleybus stance in the run-up to Thursday, the station has chosen to pass judgment and deliberately influence the opinions of citizens. But their role as a news agency is not to tell viewers what is right or wrong. It is to tell viewers, clearly and precisely, the news. And only the news. Their job is to report, not to reflect.

Now, even if their main story finds that the trolleybus proposal is a good one that should be funded, a majority of their viewers, who do not watch KHQ Local News but do turn in for NBC primetime, will be under the impression that the plan is a bad one that should be tossed out. Simply because the promotional said as much.

We decry this shoddy communications tactic, and urge KHQ to make a full apology, post-haste. If you respect responsible journalism and envision a greater transportation future for Spokane than simply road improvements, we urge you to visit KHQ’s Facebook Page and leave a note in support of transit alternatives and opposing their ridiculous ad. And don’t forget to watch the story on Thursday and tell them what you think. The local media should not take sides in these critical debates about our city’s future. They should report the news. Only the news.

READ MORE:

Bennett Block to be Redeveloped Soon

nystrom + olson architecture is designing this remodel of the Bennett Block between West Main and West Spokane Falls Boulevard. Construction should be underway shortly, as demolition of the old Cyrus O’Leary’s restaurant is now complete. We love these new designs—they’re exactly what is necessary for this area to do well. Frankly, the renderings look somewhat similar to the Cannery in San Francisco.

The eventual and likely next step to infilling West Main? A mid-rise to high-rise brick building next door on the site of a current Diamond Parking lot and the reconstruction of the Howard-Spokane Falls and Stevens Spokane Falls intersections. Get on it, Ron Wells.