When their battle started, S. Cynthia Olson and her husband stockpiled sump pumps and dug two ditches beneath their south Spokane home.
The water started as a trickle in their basement. It has become a steady flow in the more than 20 years Olson has lived in her house on the northwest corner of the Palouse Highway and Freya.
Now, Olson fears that a proposed development might mean more than just another bucket of water in her basement.
“All this new building has sent the water to our basements, to our yards,” Olson said. “To us, it seems very unfair. You’d better learn to swim if you’re going to stay around here very long.”
Building has been rampant in the Moran Prairie area for the past few years. There’s Ashton Heights, a subdivision of family homes that’s almost finished. An apartment complex with almost 100 units is well on the way to completion.
That complex slipped by neighbors without much of a fight. But they have opposed a zoning change proposed for an area just east of Freya on the north side of the Palouse Highway.
Riverside Development wants to change the zoning of 2.7 acres from single-family to apartments. The company wants to build four buildings that would contain 48 units.
The proposal was shot down last June when the county engineer’s department cited storm water management problems at the site.
But Riverside Development appealed the decision to county commissioners. A hearing on the appeal will be held May 9.
Olson will be there. She tells stories of plugged ditches, of a pipe that shoots water into a neighbor’s yard as if through a firehose, of neighbors losing prized possessions.
“We’re like the sewer for Moran Prairie,” Olson said. “This stuff has been going on for years. This isn’t new.”
Jean Wells, who lives on the southwest corner of the Palouse Highway and Freya, said the water first rose in her basement in 1991. But 1993 was the killer.
“I took some really nice rugs to the dump because there was no way to get them dried out,” she said. “I lost a lot of books. I had a lot of personal damage. It was pretty excessive.”
That isn’t the fault of Riverside Development. Company consultant John Konen said the company’s main squabble isn’t with neighbors. It’s with the county, which is hesitant to allow any more development which might create even a small amount of runoff.
“It is splitting hairs so finely that it’s almost beyond me,” Konen said. “We’re talking about such a minute quantity. Maybe we’re the straw that breaks the camel’s back up there.”
Riverside Development has proposed a combination of swales and detention ponds to address any drainage problems on the site.
Moran Prairie has unfortunate topography for development, a mixture of high ground water and high bedrock. Each condition means most on-site drainage systems don’t work very well, said Brenda Sims, county storm water utility manager.
Last year, the county considered a moratorium on development in the area. The county now is working on a watershed plan for the area that will address wetlands, storm sewers and regional needs.
If all goes right, the plan will be done in a little more than a year.
Konen argues that the county unfairly has imposed a “de facto” moratorium on building on the area.
“We’re sitting here, wanting to proceed and resolve the land-use issues, and because somebody has a grandiose scheme as to how the ground water should be accommodated, we’re essentially standing here in limbo,” Konen said.
Konen added that the developer has talked to the county several times about drainage problems since the decision was appealed.
Not so, according to the county.
“We asked them to come in and talk to us to see if we could come to a resolution to the drainage problem in the area,” said Bill Hemmings of the county engineer’s office. “They haven’t done that yet.”