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Stairway to controversy

Fri., Nov. 14, 2008

Peaceful Valley neighbors leery of developer’s plan

Developer Mick McDowell wants to buy the Cedar Street staircase that links the Peaceful Valley neighborhood to Riverside Avenue above – along with the 25-by-95-foot strip of land it sits on – and replace it with a new stairway alongside the condos he plans to build there.

He would pay the city $7,500 for the property.

“There will be public access 24-7, 365 days a year,” McDowell said, standing at the top of the steps Thursday afternoon. “I’ve never hesitated to guarantee that.”

But residents gathered at the Peaceful Valley Community Center on Thursday night remained concerned. Many oppose the sale, and they question how they can be guaranteed the stairs will remain open if they’re sold. They called for a contract that allows ownership to revert to the city if access conditions aren’t met.

“At 10 o’clock at night, if he buys it and closes it, who do I call?” said George Orr. “Nobody can confirm to me how that rule is enforced and regulated.”

At the urging of City Councilman Richard Rush, residents agreed to form a committee to discuss the proposal with McDowell.

The stairs are the easiest route between Peaceful Valley and the west end of downtown, with its shops and eateries.

Mayor Mary Verner told the 25 or so residents at the meeting that her reaction to the proposal as a citizen was: “Why are we getting rid of a piece of property that provides connectivity?” But as mayor, she said, she can’t interfere in the city’s process for considering proposals like McDowell’s.

City staffers haven’t yet made a recommendation on whether the city should make the sale. The City Council will have the final say.

“I don’t see anything going forward until there’s a comfort level in the neighborhood,” Dave Steele, real estate director for the city of Spokane, said at the meeting. McDowell’s rendition of the stairs he wants to build shows a winding, paved staircase adjacent to his new building and ending in a public plaza at North Cedar Street and West Wilson Avenue. The current stairs are west of the condominium site. The condo units would open up to the new stairs.

“There’d be work force housing units facing this way,” McDowell said, gesturing to the west, “and owning this property would make it possible to give them direct access to the outside.”

The current metal staircase – graffiti-marked and litter-strewn – is owned and maintained by the city. The stairs are open year-around, but city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said she didn’t think the city clears snow there.

McDowell said his staircase would be well-lighted and covered, or he would clear snow from it to limit liability. “I can’t have icy steps over a 90-foot drop,” he said.

McDowell’s condominium development has been the subject of legal wrangling among the developer, the city of Spokane and residents of Peaceful Valley, who at one point sued McDowell to stop the project.

Not getting the Cedar Street stairs wouldn’t derail the condos, McDowell said. “I can build no matter if I own the staircase or not,” he said.


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