PULLMAN — A member of the Pullman City Council wants the city to consider a temporary moratorium on new construction in the downtown business district.

Councilor Al Sorensen suggested the idea at the end of Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Given the city’s ongoing efforts to turn the downtown district into a vibrant commercial/entertainment center, Sorensen said there’s an urgent need to make sure any new development is consistent with that goal.

“We’re spending a bunch of money to create a new downtown master plan,” he said. “We need to make sure any new construction fits with that. Now is the time, before it’s too late.”

Sorensen referenced a recent news story talking about proposed developments in downtown Pullman. Any projects submitted to the Pullman Planning Department today, he noted, would have to follow existing design standards and building requirements — and those standards don’t necessarily reflect the type of image the city is trying to create.

“This is really, really important,” Sorensen said. “We have a lot of outside interest in doing developments in downtown Pullman. If that continues to occur without our reining it in, doing a master plan is ridiculous.”

Sorensen proposed a three-month moratorium on new construction, to give the council time to address this issue. However, City Attorney Laura McAloon noted that several steps need to be taken before the council could approve the move, including a public hearing.

She also noted that, if the council is concerned about design standards or other similar requirements, that issue would typically be addressed by the Pullman Planning Commission, not the council.

McAloon said she’ll prepare a presentation for next Tuesday’s council meeting regaring the type of issues a temporary moratorium could address, and outlining the steps that must be taken before the council could approve the move.

In other action Tuesday, the council held a public hearing on proposed changes in the 2019-20 Pullman Transit bus routes and schedule.

Transit Director Wayne Thompson said one of the more notable changes is adding two hours to the Dial-a-Ride schedule, increasing it from a six-hour shift to eight hours. Service to the Golden Hills neighborhood will also be moved from the Silver Route to the Paradise Route, to ease congestion on the latter.

No one from the public spoke during the hearing. The council will take action on the proposed changes during its meeting next Tuesday; if approved, they’ll take effect in mid-August.

The council also approved an increase in the city’s annual contribution to the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee, from $20,000 per year to $27,000.

A similar increase is being requested from Moscow, Washington State University and the University of Idaho; Whitman and Latah counties will be asked to increase their contributions from $5,000 per year to $6,750.

The entities involved in the aquifer committee work cooperatively to ensure the long-term supply of potable water to the Palouse Basin region. The additional funding is needed to cover staff salaries and maintain healthy reserves.

The council also heard a presentation from McAloon regarding the ongoing negotiations with Whitman County regarding the cost and location of district court services.

The county has provided district court services in Pullman two days a week for the past several years. Misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses brought by the city are a primary focus of the hearings, along with parking violations and other municipal infractions.

The hearings currently take place in the city hall council chambers. However, given the city’s plans to move into a new city hall facility next year, it’s unclear if district court services will continue to be provided in Pullman, or be shifted entirely to Colfax.

The two jurisdictions have been discussing the issue for months, including the related question of how much the city will pay for the services. The county says it costs $488,000 per year to provide the service, but McAloon said the city isn’t clear how that figure was calculated.

“So what we’ve been doing is having our police department statistician — using the data we have and that the court has — try to figure out what percentage of district court misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases are city tickets. We’re also looking at the disposition of those cases — what the outcome was, what the dismissal rate was — so we can help the county assign costs appropriately, rather than ballparking it.”

The county has also indicated it wants this issue resolved by Aug. 30. However, that’s the deadline for either party to withdraw from the agreement to hold district court hearings in the current council chambers. Since the city won’t be relocating until next year, McAloon said the real deadline for resolving this dispute is Aug. 30, 2020.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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