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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Whitman Neighborhood Council keeps community focused

Vhinnia Binejal, of the Swag team, winds up for a smash hit during a Marshallese Community Softball Association game in August 2012 at Rochester Heights Park in north Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Terry Vent The Spokesman-Review

When Rochester Heights Park added an all-ages exercise area last fall, the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The mayor came out, the parks department, the whole works,” Whitman Neighborhood Council chair Charles Hansen said.

The exercise area, sponsored by TrueGreen’s TrueNeighbor program, features a hand-cycle, a pull-up bar, a balance beam and stations for steps, knee lifts and body curls. “It’s designed for all ages, from 5 to 85,” Hansen said.

Rochester Heights Park is the centerpiece of what might be the fullest, most finished neighborhood in Spokane.

“Whitman has been an established neighborhood for many years,” council secretary Don Sundahl said. “There really isn’t any open land anywhere; it’s all built up.”

“I think by the last count there were nine vacant lots (left) in the neighborhood,” council Chair Charles Hansen said.

Whitman, Spokane’s second smallest organized neighborhood after Browne’s Addition, covers the 64 city blocks between Perry and Crestline streets, from Wellesley to Francis avenues. Zoned single-family residential, Whitman has just a smattering of duplexes – holdovers from a previous zoning plan – and no apartments.

“We have more houses per acre than any other neighborhood in District 1,” Hansen said.

Whitman, Bemiss and Hillyard formed the Hillyard Alliance and collaborated on a 2010 neighborhood action plan. “I go to all their meetings,” Hansen said. “Mainly we’ve been talking about what to do with the freeway.”

Whitman isn’t in the north-south freeway’s projected path, so Hansen is primarily concerned about how the interchanges will funnel traffic through the neighborhood.

“They are going to be at Wellesley in about two years,” he said. “The next exit from the freeway is going to be clear at Trent, so if you’re going to get off the freeway anyplace up this way, you’re going to either be on Wellesley or Francis from now on.”

In 2009, as part of the Hillyard Alliance neighborhood planning process, a group of planning department students from Eastern Washington University told Hansen that Whitman almost fit their model for a perfect neighborhood.

“You put the school in the middle, put all the arterials around the outside, and you have sidewalks everyplace,” Hansen said.

“Except we didn’t have the sidewalks,” he said.

So they got to work. First, the council funded sidewalks, ADA ramps and a crosswalk at the north end of Rochester Heights Park, so residents of the Magnolia Care Assisted Living Center could get across Rowan Avenue. The council also placed a crosswalk east of Magnolia Street to be clear of the Whitman Elementary School zone area.

“The school didn’t (need) another crosswalk they had to man after school gets out,” said Hansen.

The latest sidewalk project runs along Pittsburg Street, across from Whitman Elementary School. “Originally it was only supposed to go between Queen and Olympic,” Hansen said. “But now they … are going clear down to Everett.”

In addition to Pittsburg, according to the plan, there will be sidewalks on both sides of North and Sanson avenues and Helena Street, covering the two blocks between the school and the park. “In the next two years, we’ll have six more blocks done,” Hansen said.

The Spokane Regional Health District and the city of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department are working on community engagement and development in Rochester Heights Park. The Whitman, Hillyard, Bemiss, Chief Garry, Minnehaha and East Central neighborhood councils dedicated developmental funding to the park.

The parks department installed an ADA walking path and benches in the north end of the park in 2017. It will pave a walking path through the southern end in this year. An update to the playground equipment is in the works.

Hansen wants to put benches and picnic tables at the top of the hill near the west end of the park, above the play area. “You can see the whole park from there, and there’s shade,” he said.

The council calls its biggest headache the hole. The hole is an oblong sandbox near the southeast corner of the park, deep enough to hide people from street view.

“It used to be the playground,” said Hansen. “If you go down there, you can find needles and all kinds of fun stuff.”

There was a ridge between the old playground and a since-removed wading pool. Hansen said parents complained that they could not properly supervise their children between the two locations, so the parks department moved the playground across the park, near the pool.

Hansen said it might cost as much as $100,000 to fill in the hole. “They’ll have to put in a new sprinkler system,” he said. “(And) it has to be uncontaminated dirt.”

The council will hear the latest on the hole from the parks department at Whitman’s next council meeting. “We’re hoping to get it done this summer,” said Hansen.