Spokane’s latest Comprehensive Plan punts on major land use issues, guts Complete Streets

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Last year, Seattle City Council voted to approve Seattle 2035, that city’s largest Comprehensive Plan update in decades. The document has been cited as a bold, visionary model for other regions. (PHOTO: City of Seattle via The Urbanist)

Last year, Seattle adopted a bold, transformative Comprehensive Plan they called Seattle 2035. In addition to recommitting to a growth strategy that places most new housing and jobs in mixed-use urban villages, Seattle’s new Comprehensive Plan makes transit-oriented development near future Link light rail stations a policy priority and begins a transition toward parking maximums and the use of new, more relevant, and transit- and pedestrian-focused metrics to evaluate new projects. In many ways, despite taking nearly two years to write and pass, the document expresses a strong, cohesive vision for Seattle’s future––one that recognizes its status as a city that will welcome 120,000 residents by 2035. It also adopts racial and social justice standards that have already become a national model.

Spokane is not Seattle, but it too has been revising its Comprehensive Plan through what it calls the Shaping Spokane process. In fact, the City is at the tail end of the process, and City Council is expected to vote on the update next week. Unlike Seattle 2035, however, despite four years of deliberations––almost twice the time it took Seattle to write a model Comprehensive Plan––the Spokane equivalent, Shaping Spokane, punts on most of the major development and planning issues facing our city. And in at least one case––that of our hard-won Complete Streets ordinance––it does critical damage.

THE GOOD

First, let’s acknowledge that the Shaping Spokane plan does some good things. For example, it adopts a housing policy which clarifies existing rules on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), encourages mixed-income housing opportunities where possible, and clarifies existing language on housing quality. The document even includes an “affordable housing requirement” policy which essentially encourages the City to develop a mandatory inclusionary zoning program. Many pieces of the Transportation chapter contain strong endorsements of public transit and frequent transit in particular.

THE BAD

First, let’s note that this is not a full-scale update; city staff call it a “mid-cycle revision,” and a more in-depth process will have to wait until the next update. But given that this revision took four years, I would have expected stronger progress from City Hall. As has been typical of recent Spokane history, the Shaping Spokane document does not set out many major steps toward implementation, preferring instead the passive route of “whatever happens, happens.”

Centers and Corridors, for example, have languished despite being Spokane’s attempt at pedestrian-oriented urban districts. Jim Frank of Greenstone, the developer of Kendall Yards, has famously said that the type of development underway in that urban district would not be possible without the Kendall Yards Planned Unit Development agreement. Indeed, some developments flout the zoning guidelines to such an astonishing degree that casual observers have to wonder whether developers think they’re getting away with some clever ruse. The Target in Southgate, the first implementation of Centers and Corridors on a greenfield development, is a sea of surface parking surrounding a single use––big-box retail. And another development on the KXLY site across Regal is set to get underway soon. Are our City’s planners considering these high-profile land use planning failures when writing Shaping Spokane?

Shaping Spokane doesn’t make a serious effort to place Spokane at the forefront of livable cities across the country. No major actionable objectives and metrics for success (i.e. 100,000 sq. ft. of new affordable housing development) on core issues. No real talk of parking maximums, of reductions of parking requirements which make projects exorbitantly more expensive for little real benefit. No changes that could make affordable rental housing easier and less costly to build. No discussion of municipal fiber, despite much of our city lacking access to affordable internet service due to the Comcast monopoly. No big push for policy aimed at the future of transporation technology (driverless vehicles). Nothing aimed at reducing setback requirements, no major updates to the development code. No bold pushes––they’ll have to wait until the mid-2020s(!), by which time we’ll be well behind our peer cities.

Perhaps most critically, under the guise of economic development, the Comprehensive Plan attempts to gut our hard-won Complete Streets ordinance. Under the Shaping Spokane plan, City staff would be allowed to essentially submit projects at their sole discretion to the 6-Year Street Program, where they would jump the list over other qualifying street projects and would not be subject to Complete Streets requirements. Under this Comprehensive Plan update, City staff vaguely assert that “[these projects] will typically address only the most pressing transportation elements first with other integrated elements added over time.” In other words, features like sidewalks, transit elements, and bike lanes would not be constructed as part of a “Roadway of Significance”––they’d be added at a later date.

The only problem? Shaping Spokane sets out no metrics or guidelines for this provision’s use. The wording is so vague that nearly any project with some form of economic benefit (the provision does not set a dollar amount or number of jobs such investment would support) could be named a Roadway of Significance, and there would be no timetable for full build-out of Complete Streets elements. Even if current City staff may care about sidewalks and bike lanes, and fully intend to construct them at later dates for these projects, we don’t know what future City staff would do. The Comprehensive Plan is meant to transcend staffing changes and personnel moves. That means that effectively, this provision could eliminate Complete Streets––and all the sidewalks, bike lanes, transit stops, and ADA curb cut-outs it requires––entirely. It is so poorly written that the only solution that would completely eliminate the risk of abuse on the part of City staff would be to strike it entirely.

MOVING FORWARD

So here’s what you can you do to voice your concerns with this process, express a desire for a bolder, more comprehensive strategy in the next Plan Update, and support Complete Streets/oppose “Roadways of Significance.”

  1. Attend the next City Council meeting. The Comprehensive Plan update hearing will take place Monday, June 19th at 6:00pm PT in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. Attend the meeting, voice your concerns, and speak your mind with Council.
  2. Email City Council with your thoughts. Locate your City Councilmember here. Share your thoughts on this Comprehensive Plan update––in particular consider the gutting of Complete Streets in this draft.

Shaping Spokane will pass in its current form if there is no major opposition from the public. But we hope that you will consider attending the Council meeting or emailing your Councilmember––at the very minimum to eliminate the absurd “Roadways of Significance” provisions in this Comprehensive Plan update.

At the end of the day, most of Shaping Spokane is status quo for Spokane, which isn’t a tragedy. But it is a major abdication of regional leadership and a significant missed opportunity to lead the way into a more urban, walkable, and mixed-use future. If we don’t step up soon, and lead the way on sustainable planning, affordable housing, walkable urban districts, and convenient transportation, we will continue to watch other cities pass us by––and sadly, we will fall further and further behind.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is this Comprehensive Plan a step backward or forward for Spokane? Do you think we should be thinking more boldly about the future of our city? Do you think we need updates to Centers and Corridors or to Complete Streets? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

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North Monroe might just be Spokane’s coolest urban district. It’s about to get even cooler.

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This draft design shows what the redevelopment and targeted investment might look like at Monroe and Montgomery. Note the wider sidewalks, more pedestrian-friendly environment, lighted crosswalks, and abundant on-street parking. (PHOTO: Land Expressions/City of Spokane)

North Monroe might just be the coolest urban district in Spokane. In addition to the abundance of hip shops, restaurants, and bars which have recently opened or relocated to the area, which stitches together the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood, the corridor has for many years played host to one of the best collections of antique and vintage shops in Washington State. Between Boulevard Mercantile, Tossed & Found, 1889 Salvage Co., and many others, thrift shoppers and vintage enthusiasts have an abundance of options and opportunities to search for hidden treasures. In recent years, the district has also added a number of boutique retail and other shops, like Brickyard Barbershop and Kingsley & Scout.

But the real magic of North Monroe might not even be the craft coffee at Vessel Coffee Roasting, the craft beer at Bellwether, or the food at Prohibition. No, the real magic of North Monroe lies in its inherent contradictions. Like Spokane, it lies at the bleeding edge between the positively mundane and the relentlessly urban. Not content to pick just one, it embraces the past, present, and future all at once, playing host to vintage shops, craft coffee roasters and breweries, and the creative, positive Urban Art Co-Op. The district reflects the polarized nature of our city and our nation, as typified by both the aggressive, hostile signs seen in the windows businesses like Azar’s and the warm, welcoming spirit of the North Monroe Business District social media presence, which attempts to support all businesses in the area––not just the ones with which they agree. Like Spokane, North Monroe has one foot in each camp of the new urban divide, constantly questioning what it wants to become, while simultaneously exuding everything that’s hip, cool, artsy, and entrepreneurial about the city.

That might just make North Monroe our most interesting, coolest urban district in one of the coolest neighborhoods—Emerson-Garfield.

And now, thanks to the leadership of numerous highly-dedicated area residents, city staff, and our elected officials, this urban district is about to get a lot more attractive. The City of Spokane has announced that the North Monroe redevelopment will be moving forward as planned, with construction beginning in spring 2018. The project, which will add various pedestrian- and business-friendly features, such as wider sidewalks, curb bulb-outs, enhanced and widened parking, street trees, among other amenities, would create the opportunity for the district to evolve into an urban neighborhood on par with South Perry, Garland, or West Broadway. In addition, it will widen the traffic lanes while narrowing the street as a whole, going from four to three lanes total and making driving a more hassle-free experience. Taken together, these types of traffic improvements induce visitors to stay longer, spend more, and return more often. And stay more safe! For a vibrant urban district like North Monroe, that’s huge––and it will greatly benefit local business owners.

In the meantime, it will be critical for agencies and organizations like the City of Spokane, Spokane Transit, Avista, and all of the others which will be performing work associated with this project to perform broad, intentional outreach to affected business owners. Construction can take a significant toll on businesses, and it’s now on project supporters to prove that this is the right investment for the right time in Spokane history. The North Monroe Business District will also be performing outreach, and we encourage readers of this blog to patronize the affected businesses––even those which oppose this project––over the course of construction.

In addition, the City of Spokane should consider including a generous bonus in the construction contract for an early completion. This would entice the general contractors to speed up work––potentially even by working through nights and weekends––to complete the project has quickly as possible, minimizing impact on the businesses and organizations along the corridor.

In the end, though, North Monroe will certainly be better off for it. The coolest urban district in Spokane will become immeasurably cooler, and the businesses along the corridor will be the primary beneficiaries of easier access, increased and friendlier parking, and a more walkable urban environment that invites residents to participate in the community, rather than stay in their homes and cars. North Monroe may even surpass South Perry or Garland as a “destination neighborhood.” But even if it doesn’t, the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood, the community, and the city will all gain. I am super excited to walk down North Monroe, grab a coffee at Vessel, keep wandering down the street through the local thrift and vintage shops, like Boulevard Mercantile, then finish with Happy Hour at Prohibition or Bellwether. And I hope you all are too.

COMING UP: This weekend, join neighborhood residents, community groups, and local nonprofits to brighten up and improve the North Monroe area at Cleaning from the Corridor. A number of teams will be volunteering in the district, and it gives you an opportunity to meet local business owners and community leaders as you improve the neighborhood. Find more information at the link above.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is North Monroe the coolest neighborhood in Spokane? What’s your favorite business or restaurant in the district, and why? Are you excited about the planned revitalization and reconstruction of the street? And would you invest in the corridor, given the opportunity? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you!

Stellar adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building proposed

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Wonder Spokane, LLC has proposed a massive adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River. The proposal would add a mostly-glass third story to the building and inject a market hall into the first floor, with office space above.

Here’s one I just couldn’t wait until Monday to share. Wonder Spokane, LLC has proposed a stellar, game-changing adaptive reuse of the former Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River. The 111,000 square foot former bakery sits at 821 W Mallon Ave, directly across from the Spokane Arena. At its peak, the plant produced 500,000 pounds of bread products each week, until it closed in 2000. Now the investors of Wonder Spokane, LLC, apparently led by Denver lawyer and businessman Pete Mounsey, believe the building can be a promising site for redevelopment, as they’ve applied to attend a Pre-Development Conference* with the City.

Their version of the Wonder Bread Building would see it completely transformed and restored, adding a partly-glass third story and other unique amenities. The first floor of the historic building would occupied by a market hall concept much larger than Spokane’s only other existing market hall, Saranac Commons. The second and third floors, meanwhile, would be occupied by leasable office space, with an event space and rooftop patio on the third floor. In addition to the redevelopment of the historic building, the developer proposes an attractive-looking parking garage with two completely separate retail spaces on the west (Lincoln St) side. The sum total of these investments would be a complete revitalization of the North Bank of the river and significantly more life on this crucial corridor connecting the Spokane Arena with Kendall Yards. We look forward to hearing more details as the developer shares its plans.

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Otis Hotel micro-apartments in early-stage development

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The former Otis Hotel building, along with the Commercial Building next door, is one of the final missing links in the redevelopment puzzle along the East End. A number of projects are proposed or underway in the growing downtown district. (PHOTO: historicspokane.org)

The former Otis Hotel, located at 110 S Madison in Spokane’s West End, has been vacant since 2007, when the low-income residents who then called the building home were evicted (often in not-so-great circumstances) to make way for a new condo development. Ultimately, that condo development failed in the recession, and ownership passed from investors to banks and back again.

Now, it again looks like a developer is exploring redeveloping the property. While at this point the developer is unknown, ZBA Architecture, which perhaps most famously served as the architect for the Community Building/Saranac remodel, has attended a Pre-Development Conference with City staff. The Otis Hotel project would remodel and modernize the former SRO units on the second through fifth floors into studio and one-bedroom apartments at a total construction cost estimated at $4.5 million. With floor plans ranging from 250 to 510 square feet, and ultimately as many as 100 apartments occupying the building, it’s safe to classify the project as a “micro-apartment” project. The first floor would likely see remodeled retail space.

Indeed, while the pre-development conference includes no construction timeline, and a Pre-Development Conference is not a building permit application, we should take this news as confirmation that there is significant interest in redeveloping the former Otis building.

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Proposition 1, explained

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The Central City Line will make use of modern electric buses like the VanHool ExquiCity, which is already quite popular in Europe. Ours could be one of the first installations in the United States.

INTRODUCTION
If you live in the Spokane area, Proposition 1 is the most important measure on your ballot this year. By funding the STA Moving Forward plan, the measure will expand regional transit services by adding the first high-frequency bus rapid transit routes, several new transit centers, and late-night service on multiple lines. In addition, it will provide the necessary funding to maintain existing service levels. But lost in the noise has been an honest conversation about what exactly the measure will do. So let’s break it down.

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Four items on our wishlist for the recently-purchased former Wonder Bread Building

The former Wonder Bread Factory is a gorgeous brick building primed for redevelopment located on the North Bank of the Spokane River. It recently changed ownership, and the new owners are interested in a new use for the building. (PHOTO: Multiple Listing Service)

Fresh off the news of a new residential mixed-use complex on the East End of downtown Spokane, and the release of the first renderings of a redeveloped Macy’s Building, the Spokesman-Review reports that the Wonder Bread Building on the North Bank of the Spokane River has changed hands. The handsome, historic brick warehouse has obvious character, which is why we named it our favorite block in Spokane, and the block with the most obvious potential for adaptive reuse.

The building, first constructed in 1909 and extensively remodeled in 1947, sold to an investment group named Wonder Spokane, LLC. Investors include Pete Mounsey, a Spokane native and resident of Denver, Colorado who most recently remodeled the Lincoln View Apartments on the lower South Hill with local architecture firm Nystrom + Olson. The group has no specific plans, but notes that mixed-use is a strong possibility. Zoning code would allow up to twelve stories on the site.

In the spirit of our recent Facebook post, jump after the break for our redevelopment wishlist.

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Major new mixed-use housing development proposed in the University District

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The developers behind the 940 North student housing building are back at it with the “University District Apartments” building, proposed for 230 N Division on the East End of downtown Spokane. The six-story building features significant architectural interest first-floor retail. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.com)

Last year, we heard that a developer was interested in constructing a 26-story condo tower at 230 N Division St, a former auto shop on a prominent site at the edge of the University District and the East End of downtown Spokane. The proposal seemed to be as serious as any in technical terms (planning documents featured relatively detailed architectural renderings), but unrealistic given the relative distance from the city’s central core and the not-altogether-great history of then-involved developer Lanzce Douglas.

Now, a new developer has submitted a Pre-Development Conference for a major development at that site. University Housing Partners of San Clemente, California already developed the already-popular 940 North project on Ruby. Now, the firm has proposed a six-story mixed-use project featuring five floors of housing aimed primarily at WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane students. The $20 million project would include 12,000 square feet of retail along both Spokane Falls Boulevard and Division Street, a critical factor in engaging the street level. 100 parking spots would be tucked behind the street as we suggested in our post on the original proposal for this site. And renderings (more after the break) feature significant architectural interest and color.

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