September 4, 2011 in City

Ben Burr Road at issue again

Developer hopes to convince county to sell street
By The Spokesman-Review
If you go

A public hearing on closing a portion of Ben Burr Road will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 in the basement of the county Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway Ave., next to the county courthouse.

On Sept. 13, Spokane County commissioners will reprise a 2007 public hearing on closing a section of Ben Burr Road to accommodate development.

The proposal by Dave Black Properties faced strong neighborhood opposition four years ago, and commissioners unanimously rejected it.

A few things have changed since then, including Republican Al French’s replacement of Democrat Bonnie Mager on the board of commissioners.

Constrained by state law, Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard reluctantly voted against selling the road, but Mager touted the vote in her unsuccessful campaign for re-election.

Another change is the location of a pedestrian trail the development company would offer in exchange.

Owner Dave Black has offered to build the trail along the eastern edge of land he and Dr. Hrair Garabedian own on both sides of Ben Burr Road, between 57th and 61st avenues. The trail would run along the edge of Moran Prairie Elementary School instead of along the nearby Palouse Highway as proposed in 2007.

The school’s Parent Teacher Group opposed the road vacation in 2007 on grounds that Black’s proposed strip mall – with a 54,000-square-foot Yoke’s grocery store and other businesses – would impair student safety. This time, Spokane Public Schools says the trail “would provide a natural buffer zone between any type of development along the Palouse Highway in this area and the school.”

Without taking a position on the road closure itself, Mark Anderson, the district’s associate superintendent for support services, told county officials the district “would not object” to the trail.

The proposed trail would line up with a trail north of 57th – on the same abandoned railroad right of way that Ben Burr Road uses south of 57th – that was paved in 2008.

The trail was routed east along 57th to a crosswalk near the school to avoid a crossing at the intersection of Ben Burr Road, near the Palouse Highway. Children in apartment buildings north of 57th use the trail to walk to school. The location of the crossing hadn’t been determined in 2007 and was an obstacle for the proposed road vacation.

The biggest obstacle remains a state law that says, “If the county road is found useful as a part of the county road system, it shall not be vacated.” The law says a road may be vacated only if it is “not useful and the public will be benefited by the vacation.”

County Engineer Bob Brueggeman said in 2007 that Ben Burr Road was useful to motorists, who made 450 trips a day on the section in question.

This time, Black says, Brueggeman has supported the road closure in meetings they’ve had. Brueggeman couldn’t be reached for comment, but Engineering Administrator Pat Harper said Brueggeman hasn’t decided what he will recommend to county commissioners.

The land Black wants to develop is zoned for “community commercial” use, which would allow apartments or commercial development. However, with Ben Burr Road bisecting the property, there isn’t enough room on the 8.8-acre site to satisfy parking and setback requirements for commercial development.

Although only 23 feet wide, the road has a 65-foot right of way that would contribute about two acres to the development.

Black said Yoke’s is no longer a prospective tenant, and while he still thinks the site is good for a grocery store, he has no immediate plans.

“I’m not ruling out anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to get the infrastructure in place so we can do whatever the market will support.”

He contends the road vacation and development would be “really advantageous to everyone concerned.”

A substandard road would be replaced with a pedestrian trail, and the neighborhood would still have good access to the Palouse Highway, Black said.

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