Legal questions remain on how land could be sold to developer
Ben Burr Road may be eliminated if a developer first replaces it with a public trail and installs a traffic signal.
County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday that the road is unneeded and the public would benefit from a trail that doesn’t require pedestrians and vehicles to share a 23-foot-wide pathway that lacks shoulders.
Commissioner Mark Richard acknowledged that opponents of the road “vacation” outnumbered proponents.
More than three hours of testimony at a Sept. 13 hearing was almost entirely against turning the road over to developer Dave Black for a grocery store project. But Richard said commissioners needed to “look at the bigger picture.”
Commissioners Todd Mielke and Al French agreed that commercial development is inevitable, and Black’s proposal would be better than shoe-horning strip malls or apartments onto land he owns on both sides of Ben Burr.
Although the pavement is narrow, the road has a 65-foot right of way that would contribute about two acres to the proposed 8.8-acre grocery store site.
It marks a reversal in the commission’s 2007 decision to reject Black’s request to vacate Ben Burr between 57th and 61st avenues. At that time, county Engineer Bob Brueggeman recommended retaining the road on grounds that it was useful.
This time, Brueggeman recommended vacation on condition that Black develop a public trail between his property and the grounds of Moran Prairie Elementary School. The new trail would connect with an existing trail north of 57th.
Brueggeman said he thought gaining a trail while shifting vehicles to the nearby Palouse Highway would satisfy a state prohibition on abandoning county roads unless they are “not useful and the public will be benefited by the vacation.”
It remains uncertain whether the vacation will benefit Black.
Since the vacation discussions began, officials have discovered a legal question that could make it difficult for Black to acquire the vacated property.
Ordinarily, vacated roadways are sold to property owners on both sides, but Ben Burr may be different because it originally was a railroad right of way. The commissioners’ attorney, Jim Emacio, said the county might not be able to sell the property without a public auction.
Commissioners said it will be up to Black to make sure the legal question is answered to his satisfaction before he asks them to proceed with the vacation.
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