Spokane County owns the land where Spokane Valley wants to extend Appleway Boulevard to the east, a judge ruled Thursday.
The city has argued since December that the Milwaukee Railroad right of way should have become city property after Valley incorporation. But the ruling by Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno rejected that claim, effectively sending the two local governments back into negotiations that started three years ago to transfer the land from the county to the city.
“It was never opened to vehicle traffic, so we felt pretty strongly that it was not considered a roadway under the state definition” and didn’t become city property, said County Commissioner Todd Mielke.
Once the decision is signed, both sides have 30 days to appeal it.
The judge’s written decision was not yet available, and both city and county officials cautioned they would not know what would happen next until they have a chance to review it.
“We’ll continue negotiating and hopefully bring this to a conclusion that is going to be beneficial for our city in terms of building the city center,” said Spokane Valley Councilman Steve Taylor.
The city is crafting an extensive redevelopment plan for Sprague Avenue that includes an urban-style center at University Road where the couplet ends.
The city has argued that its plans for Sprague, as well as grant money to extend Appleway east to Evergreen Road, are in jeopardy because Spokane Valley doesn’t own the land.
The county has offered to give the land to the city under a number of conditions. Talks have stalled, though, primarily over disagreements on the purchase and location of right of way that would be set aside for a mass transit system like light rail.
Mielke has argued consistently that it’s the county’s responsibility to maintain an unbroken easement between Spokane and Liberty Lake for mass transit in the future, even if it’s built decades from now.
The county’s newest commissioner, Bonnie Mager, agrees.
“The problem, though, is the pinch points,” she said.
Sections of the railroad bed aren’t wide enough for both traffic lanes and extra space for a set of tracks. While Spokane Valley leaders have offered a transit easement where there is room for it, they’ve argued the city shouldn’t have to spend its money buying extra right of way to accommodate a regional transit system.
After Thursday’s decision, Mielke and Mager said they will look to the last settlement offer by the county. It would obligate the city to buy extra land on the north side of the skinny sections to accommodate transit, with the county or STA buying land needed along the south boundary of the railroad property.
The City Council recently approved a counteroffer that would let the two sides negotiate the exact location of a transit easement at a later date but did not agree to purchase extra land for transit.
The next time the council and the commissioners meet face-to-face is at a joint meeting June 18.