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.

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

Urban village to rise on Spokane’s South Hill?

Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane's South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn't this look like Central Food at the Nest in Kendall Yards? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)
Will the next Kendall Yards be located near Southeast Boulevard and 29th on Spokane’s South Hill? The developers of Quail Run seem to hope so. Honestly, doesn’t this restaurant look like a new Flying Goat or Central Food? (PHOTO: Quail Run Spokane)

Matthew Byrd of Cornerstone Property Advisors is marketing an urban village at Quail Run on Spokane’s South Hill. Early site clearing has gotten underway on the property, located near the intersection of 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard, and vertical construction could be in progress within a few weeks.

But as with all Spokane projects, it seems, this one has positive and negative aspects. Luckily, under all three scenarios, the majority of the new construction would be fronting a new “main street.” A water feature is envisioned in two of the three ideas. But one proposal in particular features a large anchor store and more extensive parking. And no specifics are given on whether any of the projects would be mixed-use, with residential features. For full project proposals, see the Quail Run website here.

Hopefully the developers will construct a mixed-use urban village fitting of the next great American city. A project that will enhance quality of life and reap positive benefits not just for buyers of the development, but for neighbors as well. Residential in particular should be a critical component of any successful project. Time will tell, as construction is set to get underway soon.

The Value of Public Space in Urban Environments

“Pocket parks” like this one in New York City can create vibrant urban gathering spaces that entice passersby and residents alike. And they pay long-term economic dividends too! (PHOTO: Sustainable Cities Collective)

Urban Land reports on the importance of public spaces in making livable communities work. Specifically, the article focuses on the value of parks, gardens, rooftop gardens, and other spaces in urban environments, as well as the return that they generate. The High Line, in New York City, for example, cost the city $115 million in public funds and $44 million from the private sector, but increased boosted property values around the 1.5-mile elevated former freight rail line by as much as $2 billion and added 12,000 jobs to the local economy. That’s a killer ROI.

In addition, the article notes that safety and accessibility are key, as is adaptability. If the park or public space cannot be used for other purposes, then in many cases it may as well not be built. Hopefully the planners of the Riverfront Park Master Plan will keep this in mind when working on designs. We’ve also heard that the South Hill Coalition has some pocket parks and other small urban spaces up their sleeves as well, so perhaps we could see some nice urban spaces in neighborhoods in our future.

What do you think? Could Spokane use more urban spaces? What does the ROI for the High Line tell you about the economic potential of open space and public space investment? Share your comments here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

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.

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.

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.

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!

If It Had Happened, Part 3: Manito Park Place

PHOTO: Stephen Meek Architects
PHOTO: Steven Meek Architects

Here’s an interesting project that never got off the ground before it was turned over to new developers and scaled back. Manito Park Place, to be located at the intersection of 20th and Grand Boulevard directly across from Manito Park, would have featured 27 units spanning four floors. At 76,000 square feet total, with units getting between 750 and 1900 square feet each, it would have been the largest condominium complex near the park. Understandably, the units were to be luxury units at a luxury price point.

Rob Brewster called off the development in early 2008 as a result of neighborhood opposition to the high density of the proposed complex. By February 2008, the site had been rezoned to disallow the type of dense project which had been proposed. Instead, the site was developed with a more modern design and ten units.

PHOTO: Google Maps
PHOTO: Google Maps

Here it is under construction. Note how small the lot would have been to get 27 units on the site. Neighbors objected to increases in traffic, feared decreases in safety for young children, and opposed the commercialization of what was once a neighborhood street.

READ MORE:

Midwestern-style Restaurant to open on lower South Hill

We will focus on fresh food and local foods. We are not trying to be a fast-food restaurant.

Jeff Nordvall, co-owner of Wisconsinburger, to be located at 916 S. Hatch on Spokane’s lower South Hill. The restaurant will feature an eclectic Midwestern menu, and it’s expected to open in March.

Wisconsinburger will feature fried cheese curds and butter burgers prepared with local ingredients.

For the full article, including a map of the location, click here to visit the Spokesman.