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River plan passes

The River District Specific Area Plan passed the Liberty Lake City Council Tuesday night after council member Neal Olander waged a futile, last-ditch campaign to increase park sizes in the district.

The council was in the midst of discussing parks, the 12th of 14 disputed issues in the SAP, during the previous city council meeting and abruptly ended the meeting near 11 p.m. with two motions still on the table. One, proposed by Patrick Jenkins, was to accept that compromise between city staff and Greenstone Corp. to increase the size of Orchard Park from eight acres to 10 and change West River Park from seven acres to five.

Olander had pushed for a 20-acre park, as he has been for months, but found no support among the council. Councilwoman Judi Owens, however, suggested a compromise to make Orchard Park 15 acres by reserving and then eventually purchasing five additional acres from the land owner.

The land in the River District is owned by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Owens’ previous motion was the focus of the discussion Tuesday even though she was absent from the meeting, as was Councilman Odin Langford. Several council members were concerned that setting the size of the park at 15 acres would obligate the city to buy the land and create legal liability.

Councilman Dave Crump pointed out that the city had approved the insertion of a land reservation process in issue 11 that was voted on during the previous meeting. That provision would allow the city to reserve and then purchase additional land for parks, making it unnecessary for the city to specify a reservation in a different section of the SAP. “This is a heavy issue,” said Crump. “I think that is playing with fire and I don’t want to have any part of that.”

Olander urged his fellow council members to specify a 15-acre size for Orchard Park. “We do need to seize the moment here to state the city’s intention,” he said. “Over and over and over again the developer has resisted larger parks up there. If we don’t say anything I guarantee you we’ll end up with small parks.”

In the end the council wasn’t swayed by Olander’s arguments. Jenkins’ motion to accept a 10-acre Orchard Park passed with Jenkins, Crump and Councilman Ryan Romney voting for it.

The council also voted to approve a maximum building height of 80 feet in mixed use zones and to set the maximum number of dwelling units in the district to 3,000.

In the previous meeting the council had decided to insist on a 6-foot sidewalk width in all areas and allow the developer to put parking landscaping with every other row of parking instead of with every row as current city code requires. The council also gave in to Greenstone’s request to not be held to the section of city code that requires large scale retail stores to make their buildings easily adaptable for reuse and redevelopment. Currently other large stores in the area have to agree to take down signs when they vacate a site and make sure empty buildings don’t become an eyesore.

The vote to pass the SAP with the modifications made over the last two meetings was unanimous.

In other business, Deputy City Clerk Ann Swenson was sworn in as city clerk. When the city clerk position became vacant the city opened the position up for applications and received 75. The top six were interviewed. Swenson received the nod from Mayor Wendy Van Orman and was confirmed by the council.