A Spokane developer is determined to build a 220-unit apartment complex in the Wandermere neighborhood, but first he’ll need to see the end of a lawsuit over a proposed access road that would cut through a forested park.
Developer Al Payne, of Star Saylor Investments, got approval in 2012 to build homes just east of the Pine Acres Par 3 Golf Course. And earlier this month, the Spokane County commissioners approved a construction easement that allows the company to move forward with plans for the access road.
But Payne said he’s waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit, which was started more than three years ago by a park-friendly nonprofit. It claims the developer has no right to build a road through Freddy Park, a 4-acre patch of land gifted to the county by the retail company Fred Meyer, which has a store on an adjacent property.
“We have this great market for this product we want to build, but we don’t have access to it,” Payne said of the proposed apartment complex. “The one thing I do have is time.”
Steve Eugster, the attorney representing Friends of North Spokane County Parks, said the argument against the road is simple: When Fred Meyer donated the property in 2001, it stipulated that the land be used “only as a natural, community or regional park.”
The legal complaint reads, “The road through the park for use by the developer is not a park use. Indeed, a road through the park for any reason, except for the purposes of the park, would not be a park use.”
The park serves as a buffer between a residential neighborhood and the Fred Meyer store. Some neighbors have decried the idea of turning over park land for private use. They say the road would make it a less appealing place to walk dogs. An online fundraiser was set up about a year ago to help pay legal fees, but it’s raised just $340.
Originally, the proposed road would have cut a straight line through the park, hugging a fence line behind a row of houses. Newer plans call for a curved road that leaves more forested space in between.
Star Saylor submitted plans for the residential development, which originally involved 59 single-family homes, in 2007. State and county officials said the development needed another road coming in from the north to improve fire safety and traffic flow. The only option is to extend North Standard Street, which currently ends in a cul-de-sac, through the park.
“I think there’s a demonstrated public need and use for a road in that area,” Spokane County Commissioner Al French said last week.
In 2012, Todd Mielke was one of two commissioners who approved a change to the original agreement with Fred Meyer. Mielke and French have said the county moved to develop the property after the economic downturn and budget cuts made it financially unfeasible to maintain.
Two wooden fence segments serve as a makeshift trailhead, but there is no signage or dedicated parking. A quarter-mile trail weaves through narrow evergreen trees, the flat ground littered with beer cans, liquor bottles, used condoms and fast-food wrappers. On Monday morning, what appeared to be a dog skeleton lay beside the trail, and a small hut made of branches and a plastic tarp stood on the south end of the property.
“The county never would have put a park here” unless Fred Meyer donated the land, Payne said. “It’s never going to be anything but some scrub trees with a road through it.”
In 2014, appellate judges kept in place an order prohibiting road construction through the park – a move that Eugster called “a big win.” The case returned to a lower court and is now back in the Washington Court of Appeals Division III.
Eugster said the court has finished hearing arguments and should issue an opinion in about three months.
French said the county has laid the groundwork for the road project in hopes of a favorable outcome.
“If the developer wants to move forward, I see no reason why we should stand in his way,” he said.
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