Environmental concerns surfaced for the first time Wednesday over a mammoth housing and commercial development proposed for the North Bank of the Spokane River.
A group calling itself the Bridge-Summit Alliance is questioning whether the Kendall Yards development and its expected 4,000 or more new residents might become a burden to existing streets, trails and the river itself.
They are troubled by the possibility of a line of high-rise buildings blocking views along the Spokane River downstream from the Monroe Street Bridge, and the prospects that dust, noise and heavy truck traffic would invade the surrounding neighborhoods during construction that could last 20 years, they said.
Leaders of the group are asking residents to get involved by submitting comments and attending future hearings on a project that is likely to take advantage of property tax subsidies.
“A lot of folks don’t know they can comment,” said John Osborn, a member of the alliance and an environmental activist.
So far, the project has been greeted enthusiastically by officials at City Hall and leaders of the business community, many of whom attended a “celebration” last week over the recent completion of an environmental cleanup of soils at the former railroad site.
They see Kendall Yards as a boost for economic growth in a prime, but largely vacant, hunk of real estate within walking distance of the city’s long-beleaguered downtown.
Developer Marshall Chesrown of Black Rock Development declared at last week’s celebration that the project is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” on 80 acres of river property in the heart of downtown. He also said that he is seeking to reverse a long-standing anti-development attitude at City Hall. Chesrown’s proposal to put a stoplight at the north end of the Monroe Street Bridge to serve his development has yet to be approved, he said.
As many as 2,600 residential units and 1 million square feet of office and commercial space could be developed with five clusters of high-rise buildings spaced at intervals along the river frontage. The Centennial Trail would be routed to the prow of the bluff overlooking the river gorge at the southern frontage.
“The site is calling out for an urban village,” Chesrown said.
Osborn said about 20 residents of the West Central Neighborhood attended an initial meeting on Monday of the newly formed alliance.
In a news release on Wednesday, alliance member Jerry White said, “Adding thousands of people along this short stretch of the river will increase use, user conflicts and personal safety concerns, and risk more damage to the fragile riparian areas.”
Osborn said the neighborhood already saw an increase in truck traffic during removal of petroleum-contaminated soil over the past year. The cleanup was funded through a government loan with favorable terms for the project owner.
John Pilcher, the city’s economic development director, said the project has not yet applied for a 10-year property tax exemption on residential construction. However, part of it is located in an area that qualifies for the exemption under the city’s effort to draw more housing and residents to the downtown area.
The project may also be eligible for another type of property tax incentive, in which the city would sell bonds for street and other public improvements and dedicate increased property tax collections from the development to pay off those bonds.
Each of those steps would involve public hearings before the City Council. Also, Chesrown is expected to seek a planned unit development that would go before the city hearing examiner in public session.
Tom Reese, project manager, said the developer is seeking to resolve environmental concerns and is encouraging residents to get involved. He said the river is a valuable asset to the project and needs to be protected.
For now, Osborn said, residents can make comments through Friday on a supplemental environmental impact statement to Leroy Eadie in the planning department at City Hall. His e-mail is email@example.com.