A forested park in the Wandermere neighborhood gifted to the county by retail company Fred Meyer will stay undeveloped for now.
Earlier this week appellate judges kept in place an order prohibiting the construction of a road through Freddy Park to a proposed housing development approved by Spokane County commissioners in 2012. The case will return to Spokane County Superior Court for further proceedings.
The 4-acre patch of land off Highway 395 has been in legal limbo for more than a year, after a park-friendly nonprofit challenged the commissioners’ decision to allow the road. The county moved to develop the property after the economic downturn and budget cuts made it financially unfeasible to maintain, said Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke.
“We had this discussion that we can’t do these really, really small parks and cost-effectively maintain them,” Mielke said.
Steve Eugster, the attorney who represented Friends of North Spokane County Parks that fought the development, called the appellate court decision “a big win.”
“It’s our basic position that the county can’t do it, because of the deed restriction,” Eugster said. “You can’t make park property available for private use.”
Mielke was one of two county commissioners who approved a 2012 change to the original agreement with Fred Meyer, which opened a store on the adjacent property. The 2001 gift of the property stipulated that the land be used “only as a natural, community or regional park.”
The change to the land-use agreement also compelled the county to pay for legal counsel if Fred Meyer were brought into a lawsuit as a result of the deal. Mielke called this “standard legal language.” Eugster said he believed the store chain requested legal coverage because officials knew a change to the land-use agreement could spark a lawsuit.
A developer, Star Saylor Investments, bought land south of the park and to the east of the nearby Pine Acres Par 3 Golf Course. In 2007, the group submitted plans to develop 59 single-family homes there.
The Department of Transportation weighed in, asking the county hearing examiner to require a second road be built into the development from the north. The hearing examiner complied, ruling the plans for the development would only be accepted if Star Saylor cooperated with the county to build a 38-foot road through the park.
Eugster said such a road would effectively kill the park.
“This is not a big park. It’s supposed to be available for dogs and cats,” Eugster said. The road “kind of destroys the whole purpose,” he said.
Mielke said the county decided not to prioritize Freddy Park – which has no sign or markings on-site and no dedicated parking – as it re-evaluated budget priorities after the economic collapse.
Two wooden posts serve as a makeshift trailhead, with a quarter-mile-long trail marked with pine straw weaving through the property. Empty water bottles and energy drink cans littered the ground Thursday afternoon, a rain-soaked copy of a local newsweekly magazine buried under evergreen needles. A fence post separating the back of the park from private property to the south had been knocked over.
The appellate decision returns the case to Spokane County Superior Court, where Judge Ellen Kalama Clark threw out the lawsuit after ruling the nonprofit parks group didn’t have a stake in the case because its members’ taxpayer dollars would not be used to build the road through the park – Star Saylor would pay for the road. But the appellate court overturned that ruling.
No new court dates have been scheduled. An order prohibiting construction pending the outcome of the case remains in place. While Eugster expressed optimism, Mielke said he believed the county was on solid ground.
“Now, the lower court can go back and actually start looking at the meat of the issue,” he said.
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