LIBERTY LAKE – The fur is starting to fly in Liberty Lake as developer Greenstone Corp. and the city try to come to terms on the park plan for the huge River District development in the city’s northwestern corner.
The city has been pushing for a 20-acre recreation park/sports complex, while Greenstone’s recently submitted Special Area Plan doesn’t include it. The plan must be approved by the city. The River District includes more than 600 acres north of the freeway and south of the river on both sides of Harvard Road. The land being developed is owned by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles, Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
“Most people in the city think we need to set aside some land for future generations,” said Liberty Lake City Councilman Neal Olander. “Greenstone is not real enthusiastic about that plan, so they’re trying to get around that. The official party line is that it’s not consistent with their master plan. Their master plan calls for neighborhood parks only.”
The city passed a resolution in May to allocate for a 20-acre park $400,000 of sales tax and property tax money collected in the Revenue Development Area that encompasses the River District. Under the tax-increment financing and the local infrastructure financing tools, the developer is reimbursed for core infrastructure improvement out of the property and sales taxes collected in the RDA.
“Greenstone, in spite of that vote, did not put that in their master plan,” Olander said. “The one thing we asked for and they refused to update their master plan.”
Greenstone owner Jim Frank said the $400,000 the city voted to set aside for the 20 acres could only be considered a down payment. “First of all, to buy 20 acres is $4 million,” he said. “We’ve used the comprehensive plan as the base for establishing that park plan element. We have included within that SAP all the kinds of sports/recreational facilities that are included in the comp plan.”
The SAP submitted by Greenstone includes a mix of parks, greenways and trails. Approximate sizes are given, as are suggested amenities. The largest proposed park is estimated at 10 acres, with most being seven or eight acres. The SAP also includes a proposed total of 31.5 acres in greenways under power lines, on the river bank and near proposed trails. Also listed is 30 acres in “privately owned open space” to be passive open space, stormwater storage areas and trails. The plan also includes a privately owned swim and recreation area.
The parks would all be privately owned, just as Half Moon Park at Indiana and Holl is now. The park is owned and maintained by the River Crossing Homeowner’s Association. “We put a public use easement on all the private open space,” Frank said. “They’re available for use by anybody in the community.”
Jayson Hunnel, who works as Greenstone’s director of sales and marketing, said he got involved in an effort to nix the 20-acre park in June. “They (the city) were trying to force a sports complex into the River District at the expense of neighborhood parks,” he said. He brought 40 people with him to a city meeting because he thought residents weren’t being given enough of a chance to give input.
Olander had proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that stated, “When recreation facilities are over-utilized or are currently not available, such as baseball fields, soccer/multiuse fields, swimming pools and tennis courts, it is the policy of the city to build those recreation facilities to accommodate the growing population.”
Hunnel said his community group, now known as the Community Park Planning Commission, spoke against the amendment and eventually wrote its own. Their proposed amendment stated, “Walkable neighborhood parks shall be a priority. On the north side of Interstate 90 there is a priority for locating parks either along the Spokane River or in locations where the parks are connected to the Spokane River by a trail system.”
That description matches almost exactly the parks proposed in Greenstone’s SAP, but Hunnel insists that he is only involved in the group as a private citizen who has children who will grow up in the River District. “(Greenstone) has the best aspect of the community in mind,” he said. “I have my own interests involved in this. If Greenstone is in line with that, that’s a good feeling.”
The planning commission recommended that the dueling amendments be rejected. Olander said he never planned to dump neighborhood parks in favor of a sports complex. “(Greenstone) rallied some citizens together,” he said. “I think they fed them some misinformation that we wanted to do a large complex instead of neighborhood parks.”
“It was never our intention to do away with neighborhood parks,” said Mayor Wendy Van Orman.
Hunnel said he has no problem with a sports complex in addition to neighborhood parks, but doesn’t see how the city can do it. “The city has a hard enough time maintaining their current parks,” he said. “What’s the real feasibility of that happening?”
The Community Park Planning Commission recently did an online parks survey of what park amenities residents wanted to see. Nearly 500 residents responded. Of those, 408 said community trails were very important or important and 390 said children’s play equipment was important or very important. A slightly lower number, 339, said that multiuse sports fields were very important or important.
Van Orman has seen the survey results, but said she’s not sure how scientifically accurate they are. “I don’t know how many times people pushed the button,” she said.
Olander sometimes feels a bit like David taking on Goliath. “They just have so much money and so many attorneys,” he said. “It’s hard for us to stand up against them. Greenstone is very persuasive.”
But the city does have some bargaining room. Olander said the SAP submitted by Greenstone is asking for several deviations from the comprehensive plan, including denser zoning, fewer parking spaces and narrower streets. “They’re asking for waivers, so the City Council can bargain,” he said.