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Complaints and fines stoke fruit stand feud

“I try to find a positive in every negative,” said Robert Phillips, who manages Farm Fresh Fruit for his father Richard. (J. Bart Rayniak)
“I try to find a positive in every negative,” said Robert Phillips, who manages Farm Fresh Fruit for his father Richard. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Richard Phillips, who owns the Farm Fresh Fruit stand at 10 S. Argonne Road, recently paid a hefty fine for violating the terms of his temporary use permit last fall. It was one in a series of complaints that have been filed against the fruit stand, though Phillips places the blame for many of the complaints on a neighbor he has been feuding with for years.

Phillips gets a temporary use permit every year, which allows him to operate his fruit stand for six months. City of Spokane Valley code enforcement officers noticed Phillips was still open on Sept. 3, after his permit had expired, and fined him $1,000. According to city records it was his fourth offense. On Sept. 13 he was still open and was fined again, this time for $5,000.

He filed an appeal with the city’s hearing examiner but lost. Phillips said he has paid the fines. “It would cost too much money to appeal it,” he said.

Phillips said he has multiple offenses because his temporary permit only allows him to be open for six months while the growing season is seven months. “I usually have it OK’d by the city to stay open a week or two longer,” he said.

He opened up this year on April 1, a month later than usual because of the weather, he said. “I grow asparagus and if I don’t have asparagus I don’t open,” he said. “In years past I’ve opened as soon as February.”

He explored putting up a more permanent structure on the site so he wouldn’t have to get a temporary permit every year. But Phillips said he abandoned the idea when he learned he’d have to pay thousands of dollars to bring in water and sewer to the property. “The cost was outrageous,” he said.

Over the years Phillips has also had several complaints filed against his business for everything from illegal signs to stinky trash. “The city of Spokane Valley is complaint driven,” he said. “If they get a complaint they have to come out.”

Phillips places the blame for many of those complaints on neighbor Daniel Harter, who owns Ruby Street Motors at the corner of Argonne and Sprague Avenue. Phillips said he believes Harter is trying to harass him into leaving the site so he can then expand his car lot. “He thinks he can push me out of the way,” he said. “I was there five years before he showed up. He swears at my customers. I have a 99-year lease with the railroad and I’m not going anywhere.”

Harter said he has filed some complaints but not all of them. “I don’t want his property,” he said. “I have plenty of property.”

Harter said he just wants Phillips to follow the rules and said extensions of a temporary use permit are not allowed. “For 10 years he’s been breaking the law,” he said.

City records show that Harter has filed several complaints against Phillips while some complaints that were filled out asked that the name of the complaining person not be released.

The bad blood between the two business owners seems to go back a few years. In 2008 Phillips filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court against Harter trying to prevent him from building a fence on a triangle-shaped section of Harter’s land that protrudes into Phillips’ lot along Argonne. Phillips argued that the fence would block the view of his business and make getting into and out of his parking lot harder. Phillips lost and the fence was built.

“The fence is security for my cars,” said Harter. Before it was installed he had problems with people driving into cars in his lot. “All the hit and runs happened where the fence is.”

Phillips said he is frustrated by the constant complaints. “He complained that I had too many bees around my dumpster last summer,” he said. “Isn’t that just ridiculous? You wouldn’t believe the things he’s done over the years. This guy used to park used cars in front of my entryway. I just wish he’d just sell cars and leave me alone. My son and I are just trying to sell fruit.”