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.

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?”

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!