Councilmember Amber Waldref on improving corridors and quality of life for residents in Spokane, WA

City of Spokane, WA. Photo via City of Spokane on Facebook.

At the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Spokane, WA, is using smart growth to manage growth and improve quality of life for residents.

Spokane is a scenic city centered on the Spokane River with a population of 210,000. According to Amber Waldref, District One Councilmember and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, the city is an “urban area with a small town feel.” Several smart growth projects—including updating design standards, a new form based code, improved transit, and building incentives downtown—will help Spokane be the vibrant, walkable city that residents desire.

In order to address the growth in and around Spokane and help steer development into city centers and corridors, the City is currently updating the design standards laid out in its Comprehensive Plan. Every town in Washington is required to create a Comprehensive Plan as part of the Growth Management Act and Spokane’s was seen as progressive when it first came out, but it is in need of an improvement. “We want to update the standards to reflect what the residents want,” says Waldref, “which means a plan that supports more mix-use development, and denser housing with safe pedestrian and transit options.”

One of many corridors that Spokane is focusing on is the Hamilton Street Corridor, which runs along the Gonzaga University Campus. A new form based code, which was passed unanimously though the council last month, applies to a six block long and two block wide area. The code was a neighborhood-driven initiative based on community planning and visioning over the past 20 years. The community is hoping that the form based code will help transform the five-lane auto dependent road into a more transit and pedestrian oriented corridor.

In Spokane’s downtown, a 100-year-old historic area with old intact buildings and a tight grid system, the city plans to install in a three-mile bus/trolley line. The line would run from the downtown area where there is a large job concentration through the university district and Gonzaga campus, and all the way out to the community college. A ballot measure to fund the new line, among other transit improvements, will go to a public vote on April 28.

In addition to the bus/trolley line, Spokane is also working to bring more businesses downtown through a development incentive. When a building is built or renovated in the historic downtown, the required infrastructure upgrades can be prohibitively expensive. Waldref helped pass an ordinance that allows the City to cover the cost of updating the public infrastructure, with the new business paying for the rest. “Updating the underground infrastructure is for the public benefit,” says Waldref, “and we are happy to meet developers halfway if it means investment is not pushed to the outskirts of the city.”

Waldref, who grew up in and now represents the northeast area of Spokane, really enjoys building a better community. “I came in with a neighborhood and community perspective,” she says, “and I still bring that to my job everyday.” Going on her fifth year, Waldref is excited about the new projects in Spokane and has high hopes for the future. Specifically, the North Monroe street corridor recently received a grant for street improvements and the East Sprague area received grants to create a Targeted Investment Pilot.

In the next decade Councilmember Waldref wants to see improvements in the city and collaboration with the surrounding county. “I want these centers and corridors to continue to be revitalized with mixed use and pedestrian and transit oriented development,” she says, “and I hope that moving forward the county and the city can continue to work together and show that growth and development in the city is a benefit to everyone.”

Local Leaders Council