Cars often barrel through the four-way stop at Eighth Avenue and Carnahan Road in Spokane Valley, just narrowly missing oncoming vehicles. The intersection is such a problem that nearby residents live in fear of cars crashing onto their property.
Michelle Yarbrough and her husband, Michael, have lived on the northeast corner of the intersection for more than 20 years. More than eight cars have plowed through their chain link fence, causing thousands of dollars in damage to their property.
Those crashes prompted the Yarbroughs to approach the Spokane Valley City Council in 2015 to make the intersection safer. The city agreed to install a Jersey barrier around their property and to temporarily fix the intersection.
“They drive too fast through here and they don’t stop,” Michelle Yarbrough told the Spokane Valley City Council at a meeting three years ago.
Not more than a week after the Jersey barriers were in place, a driver experienced a medical emergency and passed out while driving through the intersection. The driver crashed through the barriers, throwing cement chunks in the air while leveling an apple tree, hitting the Yarbroughs’ garage and destroying a second fence on the property.
The city is now moving forward with a plan to fix the problem intersection by purchasing two parcels of land – including the Yarbroughs’ property – to build a roundabout or signalized intersection.
“We’ve been looking at that intersection for some time,” said Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell at a recent council meeting.
Driskell said the intersection is awkward for drivers. Instead of lining up, it veers about 13 feet to the west.
“Part of the problem, I think, has to do with a large rock outcropping on the southwest corner, but we’re kind of left to guess why the rest of the intersection looks the way it is,” he said. “The bottom line is it doesn’t function very well and so we’ve been looking at it from the standpoint of how we might fix it.”
The Spokane Valley City Council approved an agreement in a 6-1 vote last week to purchase the Yarbroughs’ residence for more than $362,000 using the federal acquisition process, which allows the city to receive federal and state funding for intersection improvements. The city bought an adjacent residence at 707 S. Carnahan Road for more than $240,000 in 2016.
The city will determine the maximum amount of land needed from both parcels – which are both zoned mixed-use – to accommodate intersection design, and then sell the remaining land.
The federal acquisition process requires the city to pay fair market value for the property, which is determined by an appraisal. The property owner is entitled to moving expenses, closing costs and any price differential between their existing home and new property.
While most cities use a condemnation process to acquire a section of land, Spokane Valley claims it would be a much more contentious process than a negotiated purchase because it could end up in trial, according to city documents.
The Yarbroughs declined to comment on the property acquisition.
It could be 10 to 15 years before the city secures funding and fully reconstructs the intersection. In the meantime, the city will consider a short-term fix, said Driskell.
Spokane Valley Councilwoman Linda Thompson said she’s had many near misses at the intersection.
“With public safety being one of the priorities of our city and our council, for me, that really says we need to move forward with getting prepared for what we can do in the future to make it a safer intersection,” she said.
Councilman Arne Woodard said he was at the intersection when a car blew through with a medical issue.
“It was going about 80 mph and was airborne for two lots and it was a matter of seconds that I had cleared the intersection,” he said. “So near misses, they don’t get much closer than that … if you are coming down there and not paying much attention, there’s a problem there.”
Spokane Valley resident Nina Fluegal asked the City Council why it’s buying the property now at a higher cost in a hot real estate market rather than putting up flashing lights, bigger stop signs, or adding more police enforcement to encourage people to slow down.
“If the project is 10 to 15 years down the road, why is now the time? Why don’t we do it when the market settles back down?” she said. “You know you are going to pay more. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Councilman Ben Wick said the intersection needs to be fixed, but is concerned about the property’s acquistion cost. He cast the lone vote opposed to the acquisition.
“And I don’t really like the precedent. In other instances, we don’t usually buy an entire property,” he said. “We usually only buy the amount (of land) that we need and so I don’t want this to be a precedent for other homeowners in the future of having to buy their entire household.”
Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she also shares some of those concerns and is only in favor of it because the city could resell the property once the intersection project is completed.
“It’s been a very long conversation and … we are in the housing market that we’re in,” she said. “If we could get it turned around quickly, we could recoup some of our money.”
Driskell said city officials hope to sell the land quickly, so they can take advantage of the active real estate market.
Woodard said the intersection has been a problem for years. If the city waits to act, the council takes the risk of having the property’s cost go up.
“We might get somebody to come in there with the mixed-use designation and do a nice little project after we’ve turned it back around,” he said. “It could be a nice little neighborhood store or something. Who knows. That’s up to whoever wants to do it. Or, they could build some other houses there.”
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