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Saturday, September 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City deal with Brown Building Materials clears way for completion of MLK Way

Two agreements were approved by the Spokane City Council Monday, clearing the way for completion of Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the east end of downtown.

The agreements – between the city and brothers Ron and Eric Brown – avoid costly litigation and a curvy road, but may have come too late to finish the road before winter sets in.

The agreement with Ron Brown, owner of Brown Building Materials, gives the city land it needs to complete the road, land that currently is part of the store’s parking lot. It also gives Brown some unused portions of Erie Street, and puts the city on the hook to remediate any hazardous substances it uncovers. The city also agreed to pay Brown up to $160,000 for lawyer fees.

“It’s been long and it’s not been pleasant,” said Brown. “I can stay in business. That’s what I wanted from the beginning. The way it was originally designed, it wasn’t going to work.”

At issue was a section of the final, $3.7 million phase of construction for the University District road connecting Division Street to Trent Avenue. The original design had the road cutting through Brown’s parking lot, so much so that Brown said he’d go out of business because large trucks wouldn’t have been able to navigate the reduced parking area.

Though the city and Brown negotiated for years about what was needed for the project, an agreement was never reached. At a City Council discussion of potential condemnation of Brown’s property in June 2016, city officials said the city offered a “fair market value” of $35,000 to Brown for the land it needed for the road. Brown requested $1.9 million for his entire property.

With no compromise in site, Brown hired attorney Bob Dunn in the matter, and court dates began to be scheduled. But through a number of delays, including one that stemmed from a health issue pushing back the testimony of an appraisal officer, the sides never went to court.

With Monday’s agreement, the city also avoids building a temporary wiggle in the road to avoid Brown’s property, what city officials called the “proposed shoo-fly.” A shoo-fly is a railroad term referring to a “temporary track used to avoid an obstacle that blocks movement on the normal track section,” according to a glossary of terms on the Union Pacific website.

The new design has no wiggle, but “slightly” moved the road northwest to avoid enough of Brown’s parking lot to allow for the agreement. To make the adjustment to the road design, the city had to make a second agreement with Eric Brown, who owns property between the road and the Spokane River.

“It effectively is the same,” said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist of the street’s design. “It’s just slightly moved over.”

The agreement with Eric Brown doesn’t come with any dollar figures attached. Instead the city swapped some land it owned for some Brown owned.

With the lawsuit avoided, Feist said it was too early to tell if MLK Way will be complete before the construction season is over.

“It’s possible,” she said. “It depends on the weather.”

Brown, who owns the building supply company, said he’s happy to be done dealing with the city and the years it took to find an agreement, but looks forward to the “exposure” having a paved road in front of his business will provide.

“I’ve developed a better appreciation of time after this whole thing,” he said. “The exposure will be nice. But if you’re out of business, exposure doesn’t help you.”

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