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Best of the Voices : Developer seeks more annexation

SPIRIT LAKE – A California developer and pharmacist who helped plug Spirit Lake’s once-leaky Mill Pond is seeking to annex an additional 160 acres into city limits.

John Sempre already owns 306 acres in the city limits, two-thirds of that annexed into Spirit Lake in 2001. He initially planned a high-end residential development with 400 homes, a golf course, marina and ski hill on the west side of Spirit Lake.

His latest vision was unveiled before Spirit Lake’s City Council late last month when his attorney, Mike Ealy, came to the council seeking to annex 160 more acres.

Sempre is planning to develop 2 1/2- to 3-acre home sites – possibly some larger parcels – on the property he owns, with trails for horses and hiking. The developer and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

The proposed annexation will go before the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission on June 3 and then the City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal.

– Taryn Hecker

Dream house in litigation

LIBERTY LAKE – Paul Shields and his wife, Heather Amity, plan to spend their 18th wedding anniversary in court, defending their Liberty Lake dream house from what they say has been a nightmare of litigation.

What really irritates them is that they’re being sued by neighbors because of a mistake by Spokane County officials.

“None of this is our doing,” Amity said. “We’ve done everything we were supposed to do all along the way.”

Shields and Amity built their house at 23524 E. Third Ave. with a valid permit, approved by county commissioners in 2006 with full knowledge that the house is about 8 feet too tall.

Commissioners Mark Richard, Todd Mielke and Phil Harris – later replaced by Bonnie Mager – considered that the best solution to a problem created when two county planners bungled a regulatory review.

Neighbors Mike and Sheryl Koch, Joel and Jodi Zellmer, and Gary and Ellen Bernardo don’t like the commissioners’ solution, but so far have sued only Shields and Amity.

Mike Koch (pronounced “Cook”) contends Amity and Shields had no right to exceed the height limit even though they had official permission.

“If someone messed up and gave me a permit to do something that was incorrect, that still does not give me the right to build in front of you in excess of a code that was designed to protect you,” Koch said. “You’re still obligated to honor the rights of the people around you.”

The Kochs, Zellmers and Bernardos filed a claim with the county last August, seeking $250,000 for alleged diminished property value and asking the county to reduce the height of the Shields-Amity house.

County officials didn’t respond within the mandatory 60-day waiting period, opening the door for a lawsuit that still hasn’t been filed.

Mielke and Richard empathized with the couple, but Shields and Amity think commissioners should do more. They don’t think they should be spending thousands of dollars to defend themselves for what county officials acknowledged was their mistake.

Shields said the bills have been as much as $7,000 a month, and are expected to total as much as $60,000 to $70,000 after the trial that starts June 2 – on his and Amity’s wedding anniversary.

They’ve asked for reimbursement in a counterclaim against the plaintiffs, but have little hope of success.