The Two Judys are together again, sitting in a living room in front of the window with a panoramic view of North Spokane.
It was in this room, 28 years ago, that it all started.
Judy Wilkes and Judy Patterson were Five Mile Prairie housewives with eight elementary school-age children between them when they heard about a proposal to annex the North Side plateau to the city.
“We were sitting right here,” said Patterson. “We looked at each other and said ‘What are we going to do about it?’ That’s how it started.”
During the next 20 years The Two Judys - as they’re called by neighbors - led the effort for more public participation in planning. They helped build community development awareness and brought national experts on neighborhood planning to Spokane.
The Five Mile Prairie neighborhood became the first in the city and county to write its own development plan. Prairie residents still consult the 1972 plan because of its thoroughness.
“They laid the groundwork for preserving Five Mile Prairie as the unique community it is, and hopefully will continue to be,” said Candace Dahlstrom, a member the new Five Mile Prairie Neighborhood Council.
“There was a lot of research that went into it,” Dahlstrom said. “I don’t think the city was ready, back then, for this kind of community involvement.”
Patterson still lives on the prairie. Wilkes moved to Montana but returns frequently to visit her sons.
The women have stayed close, and memories of their early-day activism remain fresh.
In 1970, Five Mile Prairie totaled 120 houses and farms. Greenhouses rose alongside grain fields. Each summer, cityfolk would drive up the winding hillside road for crates of U-pick strawberries and bushels of corn.
When The Two Judys arrived downtown, former Planning Director Vaughn P. Call was putting final touches on a proposal to bring water and sewer services to the prairie.
Spokane County Planning Director Charles Huggins was talking about a plan for 8,000 more houses, 20,000 people, seven schools, shopping centers, even high-rise apartments across the prairie’s 3,200 acres.
The Two Judys rallied neighbors and organized the non-profit People for the Preservation and Development of Five Mile Prairie.
Willie Forsgreen, a longtime prairie landowner and preservationist, was elected chairman. Other board members included John Schultheis, Bob Wilkes, Kurt Orton, Ethan Williams, Owen Click, Lee Pennel, and Earl Smith.
“The wives were as involved as the men,” said Wilkes. “The women did the legwork, the men did the up-front stuff. That’s the way it was then.”
But it was The Two Judys who attended and testified at public meetings. They became the faces and voices of prairie preservation.
“Most of the meetings were in the afternoon and all the men were at work,” said Wilkes.
The group began building networks and collecting resources from around the country. They studied community planning.
But the prairie was a community divided.
The largest landowners wanted city water service on the prairie. Taxes were high, and they wanted the option of selling their acres to developers.
Smaller landowners and those who moved to the prairie for its rural atmosphere were opposed to piped-in water.
Bill Knott, with about 200 acres of land on the west side of the prairie, led the pro-water movement.
“There’s nothing naturally beautiful about a lot of unprofitable farmland,” Knott said at the time.
Knott, now deceased, helped form “People Who Oppose the People for Preservation and Development of Five Mile Prairie.”
The battle heated. The women were called communists, and found feces in their mailboxes and garbage dumped in their yards. In 1979 Spokane Magazine called the women “Suburban Guerillas,” a badge they wore proudly.
A Spokane attorney told them the city manager referred to them as “two fat old ladies on a crusade.”
They remember threats and being warned not to show up at city meetings. When they arrived at the meetings, their item would suddenly drop off the official agenda.
“We were ornery enough to continue,” said Patterson.
Along with other neighbors, they began creating a comprehensive plan for the prairie.
Their committees surveyed geology and geography, drainage, wildlife paths and erosion. They researched history and planned for parks and recreation.
They learned about cluster housing, conservation easements and the transfer of development rights. They urged their neighbors to do the same.
They spread maps across their dining room tables, studied hydrology late into the night and started calling experts around the country the minute their kids left for school in the morning.
Each page of the plan was typed and retyped on a clattering typewriter.
Talk of their work spread across the county. They were soon called on to help organize other neighborhoods, including Moran Prairie, Glenrose, Peone, West Plains and Otis Orchards.
“We didn’t want to stop development, just guide and direct it,” said Patterson.
They brought in well-known planners from Philadelphia to speak in Spokane. With help from Washington State University and University of Washington, they started community classes-for-credit in planning and public process.
They hired well-known environmental attorney Marvin B. Durning of Seattle for his land-use expertise and because they didn’t know which local attorneys to trust.
The plan was finished in 1972 - 50 pages and a dozen maps. It was accepted by the Spokane County Commissioners and City Council but never officially adopted.
Land use consultant Jim Kolva recently read through the old prairie plan.
“They were kind of ahead of their time,” said Kolva, especially in looking at environmental constraints and in citizen participation and plan development.
“From a planning perspective, it’s too bad the plan couldn’t have been adopted the way it was,” said Kolva. “I think the commissioners tried to strike a balance.
The Two Judys refused to give up efforts to preserve the prairie.
In the 1970s, Five Mile preservationists filed eight lawsuits fighting the city, developers, even the Boundary Review Board on annexation, sewer, water and road widening.
Ten years later, they reached an agreement with the city. Developers would be required to pay for all improvements associated with their developments, including water, sewer and roads.
“Before, there was nothing in place requiring developers to pay their own way,” said Wilkes. “Everybody paid.”
The Two Judys estimate prairie residents spent $100,000 in lawyer and expert fees protecting the prairie. The money was raised with pancake breakfasts, sale of a community recipe book, races and other events.
They wonder quietly if the money could have been better spent buying property for permanent conservation easements.
But they add - loud and clear - they have no regrets about the two decades they spent working to preserve the prairie.
Judy Wilkes’ son Tim, after touring the area recently, told his mom, “You helped make this a great place to grow up.”
“I have no doubt what we did was right,” said Judy Wilkes. “I don’t regret any of it.”
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