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County makes new Appleway offer

With a court date drawing near, Spokane County officials announced a new offer to settle a lawsuit brought by Spokane Valley over the ownership of an old railroad bed that could extend Appleway Boulevard east to the city limits.

At a press conference Wednesday held on the weed-strewn stretch of land in Spokane Valley, County Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke said the county would be willing to give the land to Spokane Valley if the city agreed essentially to split the cost of buying additional right of way. The extra land is needed to make the road wide enough to accommodate future transit.

Spokane Valley has invested close to half a million dollars in a plan to redevelop land along Sprague and Appleway, including portions of Appleway that haven’t been built yet.

The city also has been sitting on a federal grant to extend Appleway east from University Road, where the couplet now ends.

“We support that goal strongly and want to see that through,” Richard said.

The county and city have been negotiating the transfer of the property off and on since 2004. After a tentative agreement fell through in August, the city filed suit, claiming that it has owned the land all along under laws governing the transfer of roads after city incorporations.

County lawyers disagreed because the land had never been used as a road.

The case is scheduled to go before a judge May 7.

One of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations has involved stretches of the former railroad land that are too narrow for extra space to be set aside for mass transit, should the area decide to build a system such as light rail in the years to come.

Mielke has said it’s the county’s responsibility to look to the area’s future transportation needs and preserve an unbroken corridor for transit while the county has the chance.

“You can’t go back and call a do-over 20 years from now,” he said.

Spokane Valley officials have said they would agree to preserve a transit easement in the existing stretch of Appleway and portions of the empty right of way that are wide enough, but they also said the city wouldn’t use its money to buy extra land for transit.

Acquiring additional property south of the former railroad bed to keep available a 28-foot strip of land for transit would be the responsibility of the agency interested in building it.

The purchase of any additional land north of the property needed to accommodate the easement as well as the road would be the responsibility of the city. The result, said a county engineer, would be roughly a 60-40 split of the additional right of way cost between the city and the county or transit agency.

At the press conference, Mayor Diana Wilhite said she could not comment on the proposal because she hadn’t received it yet.