Frustrated with stalled negotiations over a strip of land that would extend Appleway Boulevard several miles to the east, the Spokane Valley City Council authorized the city’s first lawsuit against Spokane County at its meeting Tuesday night.
“There are times when we need to have a third party arbiter, and sometimes that arbiter wears a black robe,” said Councilman Steve Taylor.
The council voted unanimously to seek a declaratory judgment in Superior Court on whether the city took ownership of the Old Milwaukee right of way like most of the city’s other streets when it incorporated.
“This will be new ground for us,” Mayor Diana Wilhite said after the meeting. “We’re not sue-happy.”
City plans – not just for a street system, but also for a proposed city center and an extensive redevelopment strategy for Sprague Avenue – hinge in part on the city’s ability to extend Appleway.
About $4 million in federal grants to do that are at risk, city officials say, because Spokane Valley doesn’t own the land.
In a letter approved by the commissioners last week, Spokane County rejected a recent city demand that the county recognize Spokane Valley as the owner of the former railroad bed.
Before that, the Spokane Valley City Council and the commissioners had negotiated off and on for years on an agreement to transfer the land from county ownership to the city. Many of the discussions surrounded a proposed easement for light rail tracks on Appleway. A sticking point, though, was who would pay for the extra land that would have to be purchased to accommodate the easement and the road in several skinny sections of the land. There were also disagreements over which entity would be responsible for environmental contamination along the corridor after a transfer. One commissioner suggested that the county trade the land for city property near the fairgrounds.
After a tentative agreement between two commissioners on the transfer fell through in late August, the talks eventually stopped.
Councilman Rich Munson said the city’s new approach to obtaining the land is nothing personal between the council and the commissioners. But he and his colleagues on the council said they felt the issue required an outside decision on the situation and the laws surrounding it.
“The most efficient way to get this done is through the courts,” Munson said.