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Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

North Indian Trail council takes neighborly approach to activism

By Terence Vent The Spokesman-Review

The North Indian Trail Neighborhood Council dates back to a bygone era, before computers and cellphones dominated our lives.

“In the early 1980s, we used to have phone trees,” said council chair Terry Deno. “Each one of us would get like 10 or 15 phone numbers, and you’d call people and remind them that we had a meeting.”

Times change – current tech-support director Mike Husted manages 600 emails – but the council still maintains a bulletin board in the Sundance Plaza shopping center.

“We have a kiosk over in Albertsons,” Deno said. “(It) shows everything that’s going on in the neighborhood.”

North Indian Trail sits in the valley between Five Mile Prairie and the Spokane River gorge. Centered on Indian Trail Road, the neighborhood borders the Five Mile Prairie bluffs to the east, Nine Mile Road to the west, Lincoln Road to the south, and the city limits near the Little Spokane River to the north.

According to treasurer Jeanine McKinney, the council’s funding comes from inside the neighborhood. “We just pass the hat,” she said. Their primary fundraiser is the neighborhood’s annual yard sale.

This year’s event, spearheaded by council vice chair Melvin Neil, is scheduled for June 23. “This is our 19th one,” he said. “We’ve had as many as 88 homes signed up in the past.”

“It’s kind of a picnic atmosphere,” said Mark Davies, the council’s assembly representative. The Indian Trail Library set up a youth activities booth the past two years, and one local business is planning a petting farm for 2018.

The council sponsors a series of Wednesday concerts during July and early August, held in the gently sloped grassy area behind the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Janet Nobel, the church’s choir director, handles the details. “We’ve had a variety of musicians over the years,” she said.

As part of the concert series, the neighborhood will hold its 10th annual classic car show on July 11, in the church parking lot. “We invite people to bring their hot rods and classic cars,” Nobel said. “We’ll have Ben Klein as Elvis.”

Neighborhood cleanup dates are April 17 and Oct. 19. “We want to be clean green, as much as we can,” said Deno.

The council happily spends its time planning yard sales, concerts, car shows and dump runs, glad to be out of traffic.

For the moment. “Traffic is a lot of our meetings,” said council secretary Kathy Husted.

Because a single road connects the North Indian Trail Neighborhood to the rest of the city, traffic and neighborhood access are grinding, chronic concerns.

“We are the most geographically constricted neighborhood in Spokane,” said former council assembly representative Jim Bakke. “(Recently paved) Barnes Road provides some relief, but it’s a 400-foot climb up and over the bluff, on a winding, two-lane mountain road.”

The neighborhood has yet to find a workable lateral access. “There’s been talk for years about extending Barnes Road to Nine Mile Road,” Bakke said. “But there is no practical route … and if you go down to Nine Mile Road, you’re still miles from anywhere.”

The council recently fought off a proposed zoning amendment that could have increased the number of neighborhood households from 2,500 to 4,000.

“They were basically trying to break a contract with Spokane, and with the neighborhood,” Deno said. “That’s why we fought.”

The battle began with a request from a developer to amend the city’s comprehensive plan, allowing the building of a 742-1,485-unit complex on a patch of land designed and zoned for 236 duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes.

Said Bakke: “(It) would have changed the neighborhood character significantly, away from single family owner occupied to very heavily rentals.”

The council, which hired attorneys with funds from its yard sales, reached out to the neighborhood for support. The neighborhood responded.

“When we had the first traffic scoping meeting for the proposed comp plan amendment, we filled the (Prince of Peace Lutheran) church to overflowing,” Bakke said. “If the fire marshal had been here, we would have been in big trouble.”

Said Deno: “We had to go to Indian Trail Community Church. We were at capacity here, and we still had 200 people we had to send on their way.”

Bakke and Davies said the neighborhood council program, added to the city charter in 2000, provided them the platform they needed to fight.

“We were granted 30 minutes before the planning commission, and before the City Council, because we had been granted standing,” Bakke said.

“If we had gone as individuals,” said Davies, “we’d have been limited to three minutes. And you are only allowed to testify once every 90 days.”

The case led to a permanent procedural change. According to Deno, two members from the City Council and two members from the planning commission will now check each new development against the comprehensive plan.

“If they don’t feel it’s worthy of going forward, they can reject it right off,” he said. “That thing got put in place because of what we went through.”

The denouement will impact every Spokane neighborhood. “It’s just like a Mississippi flood,” Bakke said, laughing. “Everything filters down.”

Deno, who took the gavel just six months before the case began, is relieved that it’s finally over and the council can get back to yard sales, dumps and concerts.

“We had almost two solid years where we were pretty much full time,” he said. “Now we can actually concentrate on minor issues in the neighborhood, instead of the great big stuff.”

When Deno first moved to the neighborhood in 1977, there were only about 500 residents.

“My parents wouldn’t even come out here, because we didn’t have any street lights. It was too dark.

“So we’d go sit out on the deck and listen to the coyotes howl,” he said.

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