Spokane Valley doesn’t need another road to nowhere, the City Council decided Tuesday.
The council unanimously rejected a Public Works staff recommendation to retain an undeveloped, dead-end section of Fifth Avenue right of way.
Instead, the council gave tentative support to a developer’s request to buy the right of way as part of an approximately 12-unit, fill-in subdivision.
Council members noted the Fifth Avenue right of way has limited value because an expensive new house has been built on top of a section Spokane County vacated before Spokane Valley was incorporated.
Mayor Rich Munson said he found the city staff’s determination to keep the rest of the right of way “odd.”
“It’s like closing the barn door after the horse got out,” Munson said.
Developer Brent Elliott’s proposal to fill in a missing section of St. Charles Road, linking Second Avenue to Eighth Avenue, made more sense to the council.
The need for more connecting streets is one of the themes in the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.
Although the Sprague-Appleway couplet has more east-west lanes than Interstate 90, much of the rest of the city is a warren of streets that go a few blocks and stop. Clusters of houses on former single-family acreages often are served by long driveways or narrow dead-end lanes.
Elliott told the council he wanted to build a conventional neighborhood with houses on both sides of a regular street.
To do that, he proposed building a missing section of St. Charles Road, between Fourth and Sixth avenues.
The road would snake around a line of trees between two existing houses at the northern end of Elliott’s property. The trees are protected by Elliott’s “life estate” agreement with Laverne Fullford and his late wife, Juanita, who died this summer.
Both of the existing houses, one of which is a rental Elliott refurbished, are to be retained.
With the gap in St. Charles Road filled, the street would run from Second Avenue to Eighth Avenue, albeit with jogs where the sections don’t line up.
Second, Fourth and Eighth avenues all connect with Sullivan and Progress roads, which lead directly to Sprague Avenue.
Associate city planner Lori Barlow said the Public Works staff would support Elliott’s proposal only if he also helped develop a Fifth Avenue connection to Progress Road.
Public Works officials noted a neighboring property owner already was required to build a half-width Fifth Avenue stub to connect a landlocked parcel to Progress.
But Elliott’s real estate agent, Arne Woodard, objected that the new subdivision would be adequately served by St. Charles Road. He said vacation of the Fifth Avenue right of way could create a financially important building site.
“You take a $65,000 lot out and, all of a sudden, you don’t have any profitability,” Woodard told council members.
Elliott has agreed to pay the full $9,789 market price of the vacated right of way, but part of the land would go to two neighboring property owners whose support he needed.
Council members questioned the wisdom of giving up the land before an approved plat binds Elliott to the St. Charles Road alternative.
Elliott’s project engineer, John DeLeo, said city officials required the street vacation to be resolved before processing plans for the subdivision. Elliot “lost a year” shepherding the issue through the Planning Commission, DeLeo said.
The Planning Commission split 3-3 and sent the request to the City Council with no recommendation.
The council decided it needn’t set conditions on the Fifth Avenue vacation because, as Councilman Bill Gothmann pointed out, Elliott can’t develop his land without building a road.
“Who is harmed by this vacation?” Councilman Steve Taylor asked. “I don’t see a down side on this.”
Councilwoman Rose Dempsey agreed.
Councilman Dick Denenny found Elliott’s proposal to substitute St. Charles Road for Fifth Avenue “very reasonable” and said he welcomed the subdivision.
“I think there is nothing more desirable in our community than infill,” Denenny said.
Woodard said in an interview that Elliott, who is a pharmacist for the Community Health Association of Spokane, specializes in affordable housing.
“He really does a nice job,” Woodard said.
Elliott’s company, A&E Properties, has renovated “upwards of 70” homes for rent – mostly in the $400- to $500-a-month range, Woodard said.
The company also has built two houses on vacant lots in Spokane. A two-story, 2,000-square-foot house on North Post Street sold last year for about $184,000 and a one-story, 1,475-square-foot house on East Olympic Avenue sold for about $169,900, Woodard said.
He said Elliott is aiming for the same under-$200,000 market in the proposed subdivision, which he hopes will be an advantage in a sinking economy.
Woodard said Elliott largely finances his projects from cash flow, but the emergence of a national housing and mortgage crisis has added risk to the project.
“That year really cost us way more than $35,000 in interest,” he said.
Munson also expressed displeasure, noting the city’s permit process has been overhauled to reduce delays.
However, Taylor, who was government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association until June, defended the staff.
“I don’t see staff being obstructive here,” he said.