June 16, 2014 in City, Green Local News

Group hoping county will buy, preserve section of South Hill

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Diana Roberts and Jeff Corkill walk the trails of the Tuscan Ridge on Thursday along the steep bluff near 57th Avenue and Hatch Road.
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A group of Spokane residents is asking Spokane County to save a 23-acre piece of South Hill bluff from a condominium development.

Friends of the Bluff wants the county’s Conservation Futures program to purchase the land at a potential cost of $2.8 million – the price the developer currently has set for the land.

The parcel is near the southern end of a swath of undeveloped property running below High Drive and Hatch Road on the east side of Latah Creek. Most of that swath is held as conservation land under Spokane city ownership.

Trail access is gained from several locations, including the pullout at the intersection of Hatch and 57th Avenue at the southeast end of the parcel being sought.

Kent Moline, a member of the Friends group, said the proposed acquisition will be considered Wednesday by the county’s lands evaluation committee.

The purchase was endorsed by the Spokane Park Board in April after the Friends group came up with a $100,000 donation to pay for access improvements should the land be acquired. The city parks department would take ownership following a purchase.

The nomination would have to rank high to obtain funding, and county commissioners would have to approve it.

“This is a place that needs public support to be preserved,” said John Schram, a Friends group member.

The property is steep near the top of the bluff, but the slope is gentler on its lower reaches where the condos would go.

Today, a mature pine forest is filled with wildflowers and native shrubs, including a profusion of arrowleaf balsamroot. Informal trails crisscross the land.

Conservation proponents argue that the slope is an important regional wildlife corridor. They say development could drive away the animals.

The land has been proposed for development of 100 condominiums since 2007.

Greg Durheim, of Windermere Real Estate, said the Tuscan Ridge project has been waiting for an investor to purchase the land and development rights.

He said he currently is working on a deal that could be closed in the next 30 days.

The property is owned by Yong Lewis, of Spokane.

Durheim said the current owner would be willing to negotiate a sale to Conservation Futures.

“They do not have much time,” he said.

Conservation Futures is a program approved by voters on an advisory ballot in 1994. It takes a small amount of property taxes – currently 4.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation – and uses it to fund acquisition, access and maintenance.

The program had purchased 30 properties totaling 7,000 acres as of 2013.

Acquisitions require a willing seller and two independent appraisals.

Trail users are commonly seen on the Tuscan Ridge property even though the owner has attempted to keep people out. Durheim said keep-out signs are repeatedly torn down.

The development has been controversial since it was first approved. The owner won a lawsuit brought by nearby residents in the Quail Ridge subdivision, Durheim said.

The planned unit development approved by the city calls for maintaining some type of public trail access, but the Friends group members said they fear a trail could become so steep that it would be impassable and vulnerable to erosion.

Moline said if the developer is a month away from closing a deal with an investor, there would not be enough time to get a Conservation Futures deal done.

“If that’s true, we are sunk,” he said.


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