Five years ago, Kathy Miotke promised her dying husband that she would never sell the two acres of open field surrounding their Five Mile Prairie home.
When the city assessed her $100,000 for sidewalks, curbs, water and sewer, she worried that she would be forced to break her promise and develop her property to pay the bill.
Her assessment is especially high since her property fronts on two streets: F Street and Trinity Road.
“I feel a connection to this land,” said Miotke. “I want to give it to my daughter.”
Then she heard about the Inland Northwest Land Trust, a non-profit organization created to protect private property.
“Kathy’s obvious love for the land and her plan to restore it with native vegetation won us over,” said Linda Martin, land trust president.
The land trust helped Miotke create a conservation easement that will protect her property from development forever.
In the meantime, the city pulled back on the paving project, partially out of concern for Miotke’s situation, according to Dave Mandyke, project manager for the city’s Construction Services department. The city still plans to begin work in the spring, he said.
Miotke still doesn’t know whether she has escaped the $100,000 bill. She hopes that by documenting her land as a permanent conservation easement and giving up her option to develop it, she’ll be left out of the paving and utilities project.
“If she has a conservation easement, we would likely skip paving the section of F Street between Trinity and Lincoln roads at this time,” said Dave Mandyke, project manager for the city’s Construction Services department.
Mandyke said property owners are assessed on their proportionate share of the project. If Miotke pays less, it’s possible neighboring property owners will pay more.
The prairie acreage is low-level wetlands. At different times of the year, ponds surface in various locations.
The natural irrigation was a boon to the agriculture community that once thrived on the prairie.
“This property really shouldn’t be developed at all,” Miotke said. “We were shocked when people began building here.”
“When we talk about protecting land, a conservation easement is our favorite,” Martin said.
The easement is a legal contract between the land owner and the land trust, restricting what can be done with the property. The acreage remains in private ownership.
The trust has first right to buy Miotke’s land if it’s offered for sale. Board members visit the property each year to make certain the intent of the agreement is upheld.
The Inland Northwest Land Trust, organized in 1991, serves eight counties. Miotke’s land is the first Spokane County property handled by the trust.
“The key is that the land is somehow significant and worth saving,” said Martin.
“Kathy’s willingness to have school groups out to the land, and to create an inventory of birds and wildlife, helped our decision,” she said.
Finch Elementary students have already visited the prairie, searching for insects, learning about the soil and looking at nests built by ground owls.
Miotke, who has lived on the property 23 years, said the easement, and knowing her land will never be developed, gives her peace of mind.
“This satisfies my quality of life requirement,” said Miotke. “I just can’t see houses there.”