The final plat of a controversial development in the Ponderosa neighborhood was approved unanimously by Spokane County commissioners in November and the neighborhood group opposed to the development has said they will not appeal the decision.
But they’re not happy about it.
The Ponderosa Ridge development is located in unincorporated Spokane County just west of the Spokane Valley city limits at 44th Avenue and Schafer Branch Road. The land is owned by Lanzce Douglass. A preliminary plat showing 100 homes on 27.7 acres was approved in 2005. The final plat recently approved is for the first phase of 31 homes.
Neighbors have objected primarily over concerns about emergency evacuations in the neighborhood. There are only two roads, Bowdish and Schafer, into the neighborhood, which is hemmed in by railroad tracks and the Dishman Hills. Residents said the developer submitted a faulty traffic study that showed the neighborhood could be evacuated in 30 minutes; they believe a new road should be required.
Even though the Ponderosa Neighborhood Association won’t file a legal appeal, they plan to continue raising the alarm.
“We’re not giving up the fight,” said association board member Janice Cooperstein. “We are not giving up on the inadequate roads issues. We are going to try and move that forward. I don’t know what evidence they have that the roads are adequate, because everything they have has been refuted.”
The association raised similar concerns about Douglass’ Ponderosa planned unit development of 81 homes on 17 acres south of 44th Avenue right next to the Ponderosa Ridge development and just inside Spokane Valley city limits. That fight went all the way to the Washington Court of Appeals, which upheld the Spokane Valley Hearing Examiner’s decision to require an environmental impact study of fire evacuation issues before the PUD could move forward. That study has not been completed, Cooperstein said.
Spokane County Fire District 8, which covers the area that includes both developments, has also expressed concerns about limited evacuation routes over the past several years. Deputy Chief Lonnie Rash said the district was aware of the final plat approval and believes there will not be a problem with water flow or evacuations with the first phase of 31 homes.
“When they go to the next phase, we’re going to go back and ask them the same question,” Rash said. “We’re always interested in more access and egress.”
County Commissioner Mark Richard said he was aware of the access concerns since he lives only five blocks from the development. He was among the residents evacuated during the Valley View fire. “I get it,” he said. “I certainly share a sincere level of concern about being able to safely get in and out of this community.”
Despite his concerns, Richard said he and the other commissioners are obligated to approve a proposed plat if it follows the law and meets all conditions set by the hearing examiner. “If staff believes it has met the conditions, then essentially the Board of County Commissioners becomes a confirmation of that,” he said.
Cooperstein said there are other problems with Ponderosa Ridge. A habitat management plan required the developer to maintain a 100-foot wildlife corridor with natural vegetation around a seasonal stream. The stream has been diverted to an underground pipe and all the natural vegetation was removed and replaced with small plants, she said.
“It’s not the Spokane River, but this is a natural drainage way,” she said. “They said they were going to preserve the wildlife corridor.”
Cooperstein said the association brought those concerns to county planners. “We complained about this all along,” she said. “The county has been negligent in enforcing the laws.”
Richard said he did not know of any concerns with the habitat plan. “I’m not aware that those were violated,” he said. “I will be looking into that. If they violated any of the conditions, they will be held accountable.”
Todd Whipple of Whipple Consulting Engineers, which represents Douglass, did not respond to a request for comment.