The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is going ahead with plans for outside exhibits and landscaping in its back parking lot even as surrounding business owners continue to complain that blocking off the museum’s parking lot has impacted their business.
Last week the museum ripped up a huge triangle of asphalt in the parking lot behind its historic building at 12114 E. Sprague Ave. The area will be planted with grass, trees and shrubs, said museum director Jayne Singleton. “It’s to give it more of a parklike feel,” she said.
By this summer Singleton plans to have a drive-in theater exhibit in the parking lot showcasing the sign from the former East Sprague Drive-In. Old equipment also will be put on display. “We have numerous farm implements that have been donated,” she said.
But rumbles of discontent have been heard since Singleton blocked access to the parking lot with large concrete blocks. Many patrons of neighboring businesses used the museum parking lot as a through street since it offers one of only two Sprague Avenue accesses to businesses on that block, which all have parking in back. Access is also available through an alley running south of Sprague Avenue from southbound Pines Road and Robie Road.
“It’s honestly hurt business,” said Dave Thompson, owner of Dave’s Bar and Grill. “It limits our access.”
“You’ve got people who are used to coming through there,” said Gary Peters, owner of Peters Hardware. “I get to hear all the complaints of my customers, and I can’t do anything about it. If it’s hard to get to someplace, that’s part of a person’s decision on where they’re going to shop.”
Singleton said that she’s been planning to block off the parking lot for years. The plans were postponed when the donation of a local one-room schoolhouse fell through, but now she’s forging ahead. “We’ve always had a plan for outside exhibits,” she said.
Thompson, Peters and Ichabod’s owner Pat McIntyre have all met with an attorney to explore their options, Thompson said, because they are of the opinion that the city gifted the land illegally to the museum in 2004. The transfer was recorded with a quit claim deed, the same procedure Spokane County used to give the property to Spokane Valley when the city was formed.
“We were under the impression that they were going to take care of the taxpayer and provide an easement through there, which they didn’t do,” Thompson said. He said that there may be a lawsuit filed alleging that the city was negligent in transferring the property without including an easement. “It may end up there,” he said. “I hope not. It doesn’t look like the city is going to help. Like everything else with the city, the taxpayer rates last. If they wanted to, they could condemn that thing and stick an easement through there.”
“That property was transferred illegally to her,” said McIntyre. “No one knew about it for a few years. It was a back-door deal.”
Singleton said she has consulted with the museum’s attorney and the Spokane Valley city attorney. Both said there were no problems with the transfer, she said. “Due process was followed in the transfer of the property.”
Spokane Valley city attorney Mike Connelly said the city held a public hearing on the transfer and discussed it at three council meetings. “I think the process was very transparent,” he said. “What was done was very clear in the record.”
The Spokesman-Review published at least four stories on the fate of the former Opportunity Township Hall.
Connelly said he has spoken with the three neighboring business owners and gave them information on the procedure followed. He believes the transaction was legal. “I did review the documents to see if there was any indication of an easement and found none.”
Thompson is so upset about the issue that he’s putting fliers on each table encouraging his customers to complain to City Hall. His reader board on Sprague Avenue read “Bad neighbors are bad for the Valley” for nearly two weeks.
Thompson recently laid off several employees and points the finger at Singleton as the cause, saying the economy has nothing to do with it. “This was immediate when she put up the blockade,” he said. “I’ll probably end up dumping 10 people altogether when it’s said and done. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.
“She’s irritated three businesses that employ 60 people. This whole thing stinks. It’s just bad for the Valley.”
Singleton said she wasn’t sure how to respond to Thompson’s stance that she caused the layoffs. She said she still sees a lot of traffic going to the businesses. “They have loyal customers,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. I think the economy is the reason businesses are seeing a downturn.”
For her part Singleton is eager to see the controversy die down. “Let’s move forward. This too shall pass.”