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Rule change would allow Centennial Trail improvements

A runner enjoys the sunshine on the Centennial Trail east of downtown Spokane on Thursday. (Christopher Anderson)
A runner enjoys the sunshine on the Centennial Trail east of downtown Spokane on Thursday. (Christopher Anderson)

A Spokane County Planning Commission recommendation Thursday would lift a prohibition on Centennial Trail improvements.

The commission unanimously adopted a revised proposal to relax provisions of the county Critical Areas Ordinance that require public trails to be 187  ½ feet from major streams.

Much of the Centennial Trail, built before the Critical Areas Ordinance existed, is 50 feet or less from the Spokane River.

The Planning Commission recommendation will go to county commissioners for approval.

The amendment, which Planning Director John Pederson presented Thursday, is similar to several previous versions. Pederson said it represents a consensus of state and county shoreline regulators.

The new version softens language about the use of water-permeable pavement and clarifies that gravel shoulders are permitted.

New permeable pavement would be encouraged but not required. Parks officials say the product is unproven and costs about three times as much as asphalt.

Kaye Turner, executive director of Friends of the Centennial Trail, endorsed the amendment, which would allow proposed improvements to proceed.

A pending project near the Idaho state line would eliminate dangerous sections where the Centennial Trail crosses a high-speed road and shares pavement with another road.

The planned solution, routing the trail under a new Appleway Road bridge, is prohibited by the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Planning commissioners heard testimony Thursday that the proposed amendment doesn’t adequately distinguish public and private trails.

Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, a land-planning advocacy group, agreed with Pederson that a public trail must be owned by a public agency. But that should be codified, she said.

“We really need to narrow this (amendment) down to regional public trails,” Klitzke said. “Otherwise, this is a huge compromise that might not stand up in court.”

She said a proposed resort near the Idaho border could produce a “patchwork system of trails” on the north bank of the Spokane River if plans are approved.

Attorney F.J. “Rick” Dullanty Jr., who wasn’t present Thursday, has argued that a resort-built trail would be public if the public is allowed to use it.

Dullanty represents Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Pederson said he has told Dullanty the resort can have only a single 5-foot-wide “private” trail from the resort to the river’s edge. Public trails may run parallel to the river and be up to 14 feet wide under the proposed amendment.

Currently, even public trails may be no wider than 5 feet.

Commissioners decided “public” is plain enough without verbiage that could cause unintended consequences.

Drew Benado, land development manager for Greenstone Corp., expressed concern that the amendment would interfere with plans to connect Liberty Lake housing projects with the Centennial Trail.

Those developments also are on Centennial Properties land.

Commissioners agreed with Pederson that Greenstone’s fundamental problem is that neighborhood trails would have to cross state-owned land to reach the Centennial Trail.

The proposed “feeder” trails would be possible with state cooperation, commissioners said.