A messy legal dispute prompted by an illegal road carved through parkland on the South Hill bluffs last spring could end with the city owning the property.
The Spokane Park Board on Thursday signed off on an option to buy nearly 50 acres of vacant property on the hills overlooking the Latah Valley at a negotiated price of $270,000. The deal is intended to protect the existing trail system disrupted by the road’s construction in April – an action that spurred an outcry from outdoors enthusiasts and confusion at City Hall – and is part of a larger legal agreement between the city, a private landowner, the contractor who built the road, Avista Utilities Corp. and the nonprofit that originally planned to build a par 3 golf course in the area.
Leroy Eadie, director of the Spokane Parks Department, said the deal will protect the area from future disturbances and establish city ownership of a long sought-after piece of property. The plot, owned by Randall Bracher and Bracher Properties LLC, had been the target of the parks department as a link between two trail systems to the north and south near The Creek at Qualchan Golf Course.
“It’s always been the hope, I think, of the city in general to acquire that land,” Eadie said.
Chris Wright, president of the Spokane Park Board, said the price tag was a little high for his liking, but joined his fellow park board members in unanimously approving the option for a sale.
“Like a party in any mediated settlement, I would like to pay less, and I would like to get more,” Wright said. “But in the end, I can support this.”
The conflict began April 11, when neighborhood residents and the nonprofit conservation group Friends of the Bluff alerted the city that a bulldozer was digging an access road near the extensive trail system below Bernard Street. The contractor, Adam Swedberg, said he had authorization to remove trees and carve the road, which provided construction access for a planned par 3 golf course to be built by the nonprofit First Tee. The city said it hadn’t authorized building the road, which was also planned to support utility pole replacement in the area by Avista.
First Tee later abandoned plans for the course in the confusion and lawsuit filed by Bracher against Swedberg. The city, meanwhile, replanted more than 900 trees this summer to replace those felled during the road construction.
Jim Wilson, a board member of the group Friends of the Bluff, called the agreement “fantastic.”
“It splits the bluff in half,” Wilson said of the land the city will consider buying. “You can’t get from one side to the other without going through their property. It’s always been critical.”
Ryan Yahne, the attorney for the Bracher family handling negotiations, said there are additional monetary considerations in the legal settlement that he wasn’t ready to disclose, saying the full agreement wasn’t finalized.
“We are pleased that the Park Board made the right decision in approving the option to buy,” Yahne said.
Bob Dunn, an attorney representing Swedberg in the early proceedings of the lawsuit, said by phone Thursday the negotiations had been handled by an insurance firm and he didn’t have any further details.
In approving the settlement agreement, the city has also agreed to waive any legal claims against the other parties in the lawsuit. Avista used helicopters to complete its utility pole work this fall, avoiding the need for an additional access road.
The $270,000 price for the land is good through the end of the year. A final sale agreement would have to come back to the full Spokane Park Board for approval.