Mixed-use development design standards updated: 7/20/15 City Council update

For the past several years, we’ve seen development begin to rebound in our City. This is a good thing. It means the economy is improving and investors are seeing promise in Spokane. The areas of our city that are zoned “Centers and Corridors” are mixed-use areas, envisioned to support a variety of residential and commercial uses that support the neighborhoods around them. They are different than the general commercial development you might see on Division St. or Francis Ave. These areas were or in some cases are designed to be pedestrian-oriented and have a village or main street feel, depending on how large or small (think Hamilton Street, S. Perry, parts of N. Monroe, Shadle Center, etc). When design standards were created and adopted about 14 years ago for Centers (CCs), they were called “initial” and were meant to help shape development but without a lot of regulation — baby steps you might say.

Over the years, most developers have tried to honor the design standards even if they weren’t mandatory. However, it became apparent to me and to others in the neighborhoods and inside City Hall that we needed to update these “initial” guidelines to address inconsistencies and lack of regulation that were allowing inappropriate development to occur in CC zones. On Monday night, July 20th, Council voted 5-2 (CM Allen and CM Fagan voting no) to adopt changes to the CC Design Guidelines and Standards to achieve several things: 1) Updating “should” language to “shall” language in several cases in order to provide consistent guidance and interpretation of building design and placement in CCs; 2) address the lack of transitions to single-family zones by requiring better landscape buffers and design; 3) reviewing and updating the standards to support pedestrian-oriented design in both CC1 and CC2 zones.

I’m very proud of those neighbors and architects who spent countless hours providing feedback on these changes. Thank you for your participation. I also want to thank my assistant, Lori Kinnear, and City Planner Tirrell Black, who organized meetings and coordinated feedback from the public to ensure the process was very thorough.

Are the changes perfect? Nothing is ever perfect when it comes to development codes and design. The need to continually improve these standards will not end with tonight’s vote. My goal is that the City look at each Center area and either create site-specific codes and designs for them in the future, or at least create a tiered approach that treats various Centers differently. S. Perry St is a completely different animal than Shadle Center — we need to move in a direction that supports overlay zoning or sub-area plans that can really address the conditions of a certain area. These updates were needed, but they are certainly not going to address every situation and parcel. That is why we adopted a process that allows architects and developers to go to the Design Review Board if they wish to deviate from the design standards. Sometimes there is a different and better way to achieve the goals of Center/Corridor development. We’ve created a floor in the guidelines, but allowed for flexibility as well.

The only other major action of the evening was sending a citizens’ initiative sponsored by Envision Spokane to the County auditor for signatures to be verified.

If you are wondering what happened to my update last week….I was on vacation! I heard it was quite the packed house regarding a different citizens’ initiative related to overturning a council action on non-bias policing. I will be posting to the blog in a few weeks with more facts on the city policy and answer some frequently asked questions on the topic.


School-zone cameras, sick leave update. Council off on July 6th

Last week’s June 30th Council meeting was short — the only major business was the Council approving an ordinance to allow school zone cameras to help enforce slower speeds (6-1, Fagan opposed). You can watch my video from last week (June 22nd) on my blog for more information on this. The cameras would be similar to the Photo Red cameras that have been in use in Spokane since 2008 in certain intersections. The purpose of these programs is public safety. One myth I hear a lot is that the City is doing this to “bring in more tax money.” This is false. The dollars have been and will be segregated to traffic and pedestrian safety projects, mostly generated by neighborhood and school organizations. These are a value-add to the community. We do not budget these dollars for street maintenance or other city functions in our annual budget. Also, this is not tax money. These are traffic tickets just like a police officer would write if he/she were to catch someone speeding or running a red light. The three schools Council where plans to pilot these cameras are Longfellow Elementary on N. Nevada, Stevens Elementary on E. Mission and Finch Elementary near Northwest Blvd. These schools were chosen based on speed data and accident data. Look for more info to come. There will be signage and warnings given when the cameras become active, which will most likely occur in September/October this year.

Council continues to do a lot of research and collect data and input on a potential earned safe and sick leave policy that would be applicable city-wide. Please click here to review a draft policy, along with a white paper, new data from the Spokane Regional Health District and other information.  There will be an open house on Thursday, July 16th from 5:30-7pm at City Council Chambers to discuss the draft policy and answer questions from the public.

Council is taking tonight, July 6th off to celebrate the Independence Holiday. I’m looking forward to taking some vacation with my family this next week so you won’t hear much from me until July 16th. Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable 4th!

City Council Meeting Recap for 6/22/15

Here’s a video recap of Monday’s Council meeting.

One note on school zone cameras: Council requested detailed studies of speeding in school zones and the pilot areas proposed showed high speeds, with several student accidents near Stevens Elementary. The idea here is to slow traffic and ensure student safety. Sometimes a penalty can be very motivating to change behavior.

What do you think about installing these cameras?

Police Ombudsman Commission Resignations and Removal

The Council received some very disappointing information recently regarding the actions of some of our Police Ombudsman commissioners. An independent investigation was made into allegations that certain commissioners had created a hostile work environment for an employee of the office of Police Ombudsman.  The investigators identified many issues of concern, including evidence that Mr. Berkompas, Ms. Dolezal and Mr. Dominguez conducted Police Ombudsman Commission business outside of open public meetings, asked staff to change meeting minutes, that Ms. Dolezal revealed confidential information, among other issues.

The integrity of the Police Ombudsman Commission is of up most concern to me and the entire Council. We’ve worked too long and too hard to suffer setbacks, but unfortunately, this has been a setback. In a special meeting held on June 18th, Council voted 6-0 (Councilman Snyder absent) to accept the recognition of Kevin Berkompas and to remove Ms. Dolezal from the Commission. We accepted Mr. Dominguez’s resignation today. The Mayor’s office and Council will be opening up an application process soon for individuals to serve on the Commission because no business can be conducted until we have at least three members on the Commission. And we need three members soon in order to appoint a new Police Ombudsman.

I want to note that the removal of Rachel Dolezal had nothing to do with the media attention she has received regarding her racial identity.  Ms. Dolezal’s actions on the Commission were clearly in violation of the confidentiality agreements she signed when joining the Commission. I would have liked to have her respond to the investigators’ report, but she did not respond to calls.

I’m hopeful that we can move forward and refocus on the work of the Police Ombudsman and Commission to ensure accountability and best practice in Spokane policing.