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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Rezoning The River Little Spokane River’s Scenery And Serenity Is Selling Point For Developers Hoping To Construct Housing Projects

From the NORTH SIDE VOICE, August 1, 1996, page N5: CORRECTION A photo caption accompanying a story in last week’s North Side Voice about development in the Little Spokane River valley was incorrect. The photo showed the site of Haynes Estates, a proposed housing development.

Hawks pinwheel above ponderosa pines and river otters eat fat carp on a dinner table of cattails. Deer love the wild apples, and porcupines waddle into gardens to feast on strawberries.

Residents - two-legged and otherwise - of the Little Spokane River valley know its enchantment, woven at least 10,000 years before its big sister, the Spokane River, was created.

A handful of developers are hoping to cash in on that magic. As the county prepares to set growth boundaries for Spokane’s North Side, county planners have given preliminary approval to about 200 new housing units within 1 miles of each other in the meandering Little Spokane River valley.

The developments, their proponents say, will let more people enjoy the river.

“You shouldn’t have to be wealthy to live on the Little Spokane River,” said developer Jim Markley.

Because the proposals seek significant rezoning, residents of the sleepy valley are being drawn into the forefront of north Spokane County’s most critical issue: growth management.

Current residents say the spate of building proposals will ruin the rustic environment, devaluing their homes and destroying habitat of the river valley’s non-human dwellers.

“It’s one of the few places that’s close to the city of Spokane that has maintained its rural character,” said David Cherry. “In our perception, we are seeing some irresponsible development, instead of development that is compatible with the character.”

Three developments are before the county planning department:

Harley Douglass’ proposed 44-home Hunters Pointe subdivision was approved by the Spokane County commission last month. A group of Little Spokane River residents appealed the decision. A date has yet to be determined for the appeal.

He is requesting a change from one house per five acres to two homes per acre. Douglass did not return several requests for interviews.

More than 100 residents testified against an upscale, 48-unit apartment complex proposed by Markley. The hearing examiner will rule on the proposal by early August.

If approved, zoning would change from one home per 3.5 acres to 22 homes per acre, dense enough to permit office complexes within 100 yards of the river.

A public hearing for Don Haynes’ proposed 103-home Haynes Estates subdivision, on 101 riverfront acres at Leona Drive and Greenleaf Drive, has been set for August 28.

Zoning would have to changed from one home per five acres to two homes per acre.

Little Spokane River residents say they are not just battling the recent proposals, but the history of creeping sprawl that has inched well north of the Division Street Y.

Several densely developed subdivisions - such as lower Gleneden and Pine River Park - already dot the Little Spokane River valley. But residents feel they must draw a hard line now against any rezoning.

If part of the valley is rezoned for higher density, residents fear, it is only a matter of time before the Little Spokane becomes freckled with suburban housing tracts.

“This will set a precedent,” Pam Wolfdrum said during the hearing for Markley’s apartment proposal.

Those fears are not realistic, says Markley. Few lots remain that are big enough for subdivisions.

But he also says development is inevitable. “People think by fighting this project, they will stop development on that property,” said Markley. “This property will be developed.”

Don Haynes, who has lived on the Little Spokane since 1958, says the river valley has already been ruined, by the 200-home Pine River Park subdivision and by the increasing numbers of river rafters.

Haynes says he is forced to develop because of rising property taxes. He inherited the land from his parents, who bought the tract in 1948. “I’d hate to see those people in the Little Spokane say how I could develop my land,” said Haynes. “I have a right to develop my property as I see it.”

The Little Spokane River valley has already been deemed worthy of protection. The state designated part of the Little Spokane a “scenic river” in 1989, opening the way for a 1,500-acre park. More than 50,000 people each year use the park, which cradles the southwestern portion, from St. George’s School to the river’s mouth.

New protections will take effect this fall, including powerful laws under the Growth Management Act. The Spokane County commissioners earlier this month approved a “critical areas” ordinance that bans development within 200 feet of the Little Spokane and several of its tributaries, such as Deadman Creek.

The three proposals are exempt from both laws because they were filed this spring.

County Commissioner Steve Hasson says the southwest section of the river should be preserved. “It’s a very spiritual, sacred place that deserves special attention,” he said.

But he was less enthusiastic about protecting the northeast section, where the proposed developments are. The burden of protection lies with valley residents, Hasson said. “If a neighborhood is very strong and very adamant and can make a strong case that an area is premature for development, that can be a very strong message,” he said.

Little Spokane valley residents hear that message. At least 75 people have formed Friends of the Little Spokane River Valley to prevent developments that are “out of character” with current zoning and atmosphere.

Crucial infrastructure - such as roads and sewers - is not in place, they complain. Having large developments on septic systems would pollute the North Spokane aquifer, which rises directly beneath the Little Spokane River.

“I wanted my children to enjoy a clean creek, not one that could be polluted,” said Cherry, who lives on Little Deep Creek, a Little Spokane tributary. “My rights as a property owner are being infringed on by a developer who really doesn’t care.”

The group plans to hire a lawyer and a geo-hydrologist to fight the proposed Douglass and Haynes developments.

Group organizer Tom Hargreaves said development issues get easily muddled by the issue of property rights. He says Little Spokane residents don’t oppose development within the current zoning laws.

But he fears the Douglass development would cause flooding along Deadman Creek, which runs 30 feet from his front door.

And residents oppose the developments for aesthetic reasons.

“This speaks for itself,” said Hargreaves, who has to wrap the pine trees in his front yard with wire to protect them from beavers. “I’d hate to see that north slope” out his living room window “full of houses and all the trees cut down. I don’t have curtains on my windows - for a reason.”

Sally Streeter agrees. The proposed Haynes development would rise across the Little Spokane River from her property, which is populated with spiny wild cucumbers and deer.

“What disturbs me is not what he wants to do, but changing the laws and regulations protecting property to make as much money as he can,” said Streeter.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color) Map of area

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