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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sisters of the Holy Names property gains top billing for conservation

FILE - The mostly-forested south bank, right, of the Spokane River, east of the T. J. Meenach bridge in west Spokane could be preserved with conservation futures funding as the rest of the land owned by the Sisters of the Holy Names is being sold to Catholic Charities, who will use it for housing. Photographed Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - The mostly-forested south bank, right, of the Spokane River, east of the T. J. Meenach bridge in west Spokane could be preserved with conservation futures funding as the rest of the land owned by the Sisters of the Holy Names is being sold to Catholic Charities, who will use it for housing. Photographed Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A stretch of shoreline along the lower Spokane River brimming with Redband trout and prime for trail development jumped to the top of Spokane County’s list of conservation projects Tuesday.

On a 3-0 vote, Spokane County Commissioners approved prioritizing a 31-acre swath of land, owned by the Sisters of the Holy Names and near Spokane Falls Community College, for purchase ahead of two dozen other conservation projects. The county plans to negotiate a sale with the convent following a formal appraisal, which can move forward with Tuesday’s vote, Spokane County Parks Director Doug Chase said.

“The nominator has estimated the property value at around $4 million in the submittal. We believe that might be a little bit high. But again, we don’t know until a formal appraisal has been done,” Chase said.

Chase said as much as $2 million is available in competitive grant money toward purchase of the property.

The decision also means Spokane County will buya 23-acre portion of the South Hill bluffs that has been targeted for preservation by local residents until at least next year. The Tuscan Ridge property, on the eastern border of High Drive Park along 57th Avenue above Latah Creek, was similarly moved to the top of a conservation list in October 2014.

But negotiations with the Tuscan Ridge property owner have stalled over price.

“We cannot pay more than market value for that property,” said Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn.

Park planners believe buying the land owned by the Sisters of the Holy Names in the near future would set up the county to receive grant dollars for the purchase and for trail construction.

“There’s a lot of potential in the long run for this property to serve a pretty critical function,” Spokane County Parks Planner Paul Knowles said. The property would come under city ownership in the future, Knowles said, and pedestrian and bike plans in Spokane suggest linking existing trails near the property to the Centennial Trail in the future.

Those plans may include a trailhead on the south side of the river that crosses an existing utility bridge near the Sans Souci West mobile home park, Knowles said.

Commissioner Al French approved moving the riverside property to the top of the acquisition list. But he didn’t want that action to divert attention away from the Tuscan Ridge property, which French said is in danger because of soil erosion.

“I don’t disagree with the ranking, but I am also concerned about that project – Tuscan Ridge – falling off the list,” French said. “The needs and concerns that got it to the top of that list are still there today, and it would be a shame that we said that we’re turning our back on that.”

“Sometimes time is not memory’s best friend,” he added.

Jim Wilson, president of the group Friends of the Bluff, which is pushing for conservation of the Tuscan Ridge property, said the organization’s members supported the shoreline project.

“When will we get another chance to conserve 4,500 feet of shoreline property that close to downtown?” Wilson said. “It’s all so good, we understand the choice.”

Wilson said his group believes the Tuscan Ridge property stacks up well in a new round of conservation nominations taking place this year. French also said he believed the Conservation Futures program was the “best fit” for the property.

If a deal is approved with the convent, the riverside property would be purchased at least in part with revenues from a property tax levy set aside by voters in 1994 for conservation projects. In 2015, property owners were taxed 4.67 cents per every $1,000 of assessed value for the project, known as Conservation Futures. The fund brings in $1.8 million a year, according to the Parks Department.

The county is accepting nominations for a new round of properties that could be purchased using the Conservation Futures fund. Park planners will bring to the board a new prioritized list in September for approval. Applicants have until April 30 to submit nominations to the Parks Department, and a public meeting will be held this summer to discuss the potential properties.

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