December 23, 1997 in Nation/World

City Buys Riverfront Land For $1.9 Million In Exchange, Owners Drop Lawsuits Over Controversial Property

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane settled three lawsuits with one check on Monday when the City Council agreed to pay Steve and Leslie Ronald $1.9 million for their riverfront property.

The “global settlement” ends the city’s lawsuit to condemn the couple’s land just north of the downtown library.

In exchange for the lump-sum payment, the Ronalds agree to drop two lawsuits they filed against the city. One lawsuit alleges city officials blocked their building permit. The second maintains the city “inversely condemned” their land by promising in a separate settlement to buy the property.

Council members unanimously approved the settlement Monday, saying it is time to put the legal squabbles behind them. Councilwomen Roberta Greene and Phyllis Holmes were absent.

“What we negotiated made a whole lot of fiscal sense,” Councilman Jeff Colliton said. “I think it’s an end to an era.”

“It’s more money than we’d originally felt we should go to, but by agreeing to this settlement, we put this whole process to an end,” said Jack Geraghty at his last council meeting as mayor. “And we preserve a very important piece of property.”

The city has no definite plans about what to do with the property.

Mike Maurer, attorney for the Ronalds, described the settlement as a relief.

“It’s a good deal for my clients,” Maurer said. “They’re tired of the litigation process. They need to get this out of their lives.”

The Ronalds planned to build a seven-story condominium complex on the 1.34-acre slip of land, but the council voted in 1995 to condemn the site to save the view of the Spokane River falls from the downtown library.

After a six-day trial last April, jurors decided the Ronalds’ land was worth $2.184 million - nearly 50 times the value set by one appraiser hired by the city.

The council debated walking away from the condemnation, saying the city couldn’t afford it. Instead, the city appealed the jury’s ruling.

The $1.9 million settlement figure is about $300,000 less than the jurors’ price tag - but several times more than the $125,000 the Ronalds paid for the land in 1986.

Money to pay the settlement will come from the budgets of the Parks and Recreation Department, city libraries and the arterial street fund. Services in those departments are not expected to be curtailed as a result of the expenditure.

The couple had vowed last August to stop negotiating with officials about buying the land, but decided against the ultimatum, Maurer said.

The city’s legal staff has unlimited resources, he said. “We were looking at years and years of litigation.”

Colliton said he and Greene spent the past four months meeting with the Ronalds and Maurer in hopes of reaching a settlement.

“Our risk of a much greater figure if we went to trial … well, we could have been looking at a $6 million figure,” Colliton said, referring to the Ronalds’ two outstanding lawsuits against the city.

The Ronalds’ land has been mired in legal trouble for years.

The couple sued the city in 1995, saying officials repeatedly blocked their plans to build on the property. That lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial next month.

In 1996, the city made buying the land a condition of a settlement agreement with attorney Steve Eugster. Eugster sued to stop the Lincoln Street bridge from being built, but dropped the case when the city agreed to buy the Ronalds’ land to protect open space near the bridge.

Earlier this year, the couple sued again, this time alleging the city “inversely condemned” their land by promising Eugster they’d buy it.

, DataTimes


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