June 11, 2009 in Washington Voices

City seeks land talks

Negotiations urged with county, STA on Appleway plan
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane Valley City Council plans to act Tuesday on City Attorney Mike Connelly’s initiative to reopen negotiations for county-owned land to extend Appleway Boulevard.

Connelly’s plan calls for the city, Spokane County commissioners and the Spokane Transit Authority each to appoint a representative in mediated negotiations. City Manager Dave Mercier is to present the proposal to the other parties if the council approves next week.

The council had been poised at this Tuesday’s meeting to schedule a vote on June 30, but Councilman Bill Gothmann called for faster action because the issue is “urgent.”

Extension of Appleway Boulevard east from University Road is a major factor in the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan that is scheduled for final action Tuesday. Several council members have expressed concerns about proposed zoning that assumes Appleway will be extended – first to Evergreen Road and eventually to Sullivan Road.

The city and the county have been at loggerheads over the right-of-way since the city’s incorporation in 2003.

Spokane County acquired the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Co. right of way in 1980 for $3.5 million and built Appleway Boulevard on the portion between the Sprague exit of Interstate 90 and University Road.

The county was legally obligated to give the city the developed portion of the right of way, but in February the state Supreme Court agreed with two lower courts that city officials were wrong to insist the county had to give them the remainder of the right-of-way.

All along, county commissioners had offered to donate the right of way if city officials would help pay for additional land needed to ensure a light rail corridor in areas where the right of way is too narrow.

Connelly said he tried to negotiate a settlement before the Supreme Court ruling, which he thought would be easier because the Spokane Transit Authority had recently offered to buy extra land in the “pinch points.”

However, he said the effort collapsed after the Supreme Court ruling even though city, county and STA officials all want to extend Appleway Boulevard and preserve a corridor for a future rapid transit system.

“We all seem to want the same thing,” Connelly said. “So why don’t we sit down and resolve it?”

In other business Tuesday, the council voted 4-1 for watered-down support of efforts to eliminate studded tires on grounds that they waste millions of taxpayer dollars by digging ruts into roads. Councilman Dick Denenny dissented because he wanted to support legislation banning studs; council members Rose Dempsey and Steve Taylor were absent.

“The damage that is being done to roads today just simply cannot be accepted anymore,” Denenny said.

He said the fact that state crews currently are putting asphalt over concrete to eliminate ruts in Interstate 90 near downtown Spokane “is just an abomination.”

Favoring a cautious approach to the emotionally charged issue, Gothmann proposed a letter “encouraging” use of studless snow tires. His letter replaced one that called for banning the sale of studded tires and prohibiting their use within four years while encouraging Idaho to consider similar action.

The Spokane Area Good Roads Association had requested support in April for a straightforward ban on studded tires. Association Secretary Joe Tortorelli said Tuesday that studies have shown studded tires cause nearly $100 million a year in damage to state roads – unnecessarily because new soft-rubber snow tires provide better performance without studs.

Councilman Gary Schimmels asked whether Tortorelli thought Gothmann’s letter had “enough teeth,” and Tortorelli said it did.

Spokane Valley businessman Dick Behm dismissed calls for eliminating studded tires as “a feel-good issue” that neglects public safety. He said studded tires are needed not only for traction but to maintain control while braking.

Retired Spokane Valley Fire Department Chief Doug Rider disagreed, and said two recent accidents on Interstate 90 between Barker and Flora roads probably resulted from ruts created by studded tires.

“On glare ice, studs do nothing for you,” Rider said. Rider came to the meeting to express an opinion on which he and Behm agree: that proponents of disincorporating the city are providing “skewed” information.

Rider said residents are being solicited by paid disincorporation signature-gatherers who “don’t know anything about the city.”

He said he reviewed the city budget and found a claim that it had “ballooned to $110 million is an untruth.” In fact, he said, the 2009 operating budget is about $49 million.

Reserve funds and annual cash carryovers to cover expenses until new tax collections arrive in April are signs of prudent budgeting, Rider said.


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