The Central City Line through Browne's Addition.

How to Maximize Economic Impact of Spokane’s Central City Line

It’s Not Just Transit, It’s a Development Tool

Zoning started as an act of public protection. Simple things like keeping the coal smelters away from residential neighborhoods adapted, since about the mid-1920s, into wholesale bureaucratic micromanagement about 100 years later. Down to the inch, zoning codes dictate what you can and cannot do.

Don’t mistake urban planners for socialists because we’re actually quite the opposite. We’re a market driven bunch. The smart urban planners, and there’s a lot of us, advocate for less regulations, less pointless bureaucracies, and more market-driven outcomes.

With less regulations and more market-driven outcomes in mind, let’s talk about how to maximize the economic impact of the Central City Line. Such as it is, the Central City Line is a $92 million bus that looks like a train that will run through downtown from Browne’s Addition to Spokane Community College (roughly 5.5 miles). Obviously, $92 million is buying more than just buses that look like trains. Improvements along the route include fixed, permanent stops that are far more than simple bus-stop signs. The fixed bus stops are significant public improvements and represent the greatest economic growth opportunities within Spokane.

Central City Line Map
Here’s a map of the Central City Line with bus stop locations.

Central City Line Fixed Bus Stop
A number of Central City Line bus stops will be located right in the middle of the street.

Because Spokane Transit Authority has no authority over city zoning regulations, it’s up to the Woodward administration and city council to accommodate deregulation as a stimulus to maximize the economic impact of the Central City Line. We don’t need zoning down to the inch, we need zoning that stimulates the real estate market to create the highest and best uses along the Central City Line.

Here are a few ideas for Mayor Woodward and Spokane City Council to consider:

1) Zero-out on-site parking requirements within a quarter mile of every stop.

The most cost prohibitive part of constructing high density developments in high density urban neighborhoods is, most often, parking requirements. It’s not cheap building parking garages (which is why most urban parking garages are publicly held). Moreover, it is folly to apply suburban style parking requirements within inner-city Spokane and, now that the Central City Line is here, we don’t have to.

2) Encourage high density housing.

Good news is the city of Spokane already does this with their multi-family housing tax credit program, but certainly make sure the program applies across the entire Central City Line route.

3) Require mixed income housing, otherwise known as inclusionary zoning.

Ok, this is actually a new regulation, but it matters to ensure access to housing for low income households and it matters to ensure healthy diverse neighborhoods along the line. There are many successful models other cities have adopted that Spokane can follow but, generally speaking, the best ratio of mixed income housing is 20% to 30% set aside for low-income households and the rest at market rates (at whatever price points the developer wants).

4) Do not build 100% low-income housing along the Central City Line.

Inclusionary zoning goes both ways. We have to include middle and high income households, too.

5) Provide incentives to developers who have a vision for highest and best uses.

Ease their regulatory burdens. Ease their fee and permitting burdens. Fast track approval processes. Provide public improvements. There are plenty of tools in the toolbox to help developers with vision along the Central City Line.

6) Height restrictions are for DC and Paris. We are neither. Rescind them from the zoning code.

Let developers build as high as they want. It’s their money and we want them to spend it. The more they build the more the city’s tax base grows.

7) Do Lime year-round.

It’s all about the last mile. Let travelers get off the Central City Line and grab a scooter to finish the job, even in January.

8) Build for walkability.

For urban planners and urban thinkers, walkability is our most loaded word. It means much within the realm of urbanism but I’m not going to bore you with all of that. For the core of our metro to thrive, for the Central City Line to thrive, build for walkability.

All images courtesy of Spokane Transit Authority.