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

Crowd pushes back against Avista proposal for new park and road closure

Avista’s plan to permanently close a section of Upriver Drive to build a park met with stiff headwinds Wednesday evening, as most speakers at a meeting of more than 100 people voiced concerns about traffic congestion and a growing and disruptive homeless population in the area.

The meeting, which ran nearly two hours, was largely staid, though some speakers let loose on Speed Fitzhugh, the company’s Spokane River license manager who is leading the proposal from the utility.

Fitzhugh fielded questions from the overwhelmingly older crowd.

Carol Nedved, who said she’s lived near Avista’s headquarters on Mission Avenue for 50 years, demanded to know what benefit the park would deliver to the utility company, which she called by its historic name.

“What will Washington Water Power get out of it? All these people are here because of the inconvenience of it,” Nedved said. “Upriver Drive is a major arterial. … It’s already congested.”

Though most speakers agreed with Nedved, her concerns weren’t shared by all. One audience member said everyone in the room was against the proposal, and suggested cutting down all of the trees lining the Spokane River and hiring security guards to patrol the area for homeless people.

He then asked if anyone in the room supported Avista’s proposal.

Ken Wenham, in the front row, said he did.

“You live here. You create the traffic problem,” Wenham said, noting that when he moved into his 100-year-old house, the population along Upriver was half what it is today. “People cause problems on roads. Not parks.”

The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the company’s headquarters and began with a description of the proposal by Fitzhugh, which he later said was in early stages and still needed approval from the city of Spokane, the Parks board and the state Department of Natural Resources, which all own land along the stretch of Upriver under discussion.

Fitzhugh said the road, a third of a mile that includes an on-street bike lane that acts as a section of the Centennial Trail, is overgrown with non-native trees and “illegal camps.” Building a “transitional linear park between Mission and an undeveloped park upstream” would make the area safer for the neighborhood and large retirement community nearby, Fitzhugh said. Riverview Retirement Community’s 32-acre campus sits about a fifth of a mile from the location of the proposed park.

Fitzhugh said people in the retirement community are “especially concerned” about traffic, traffic noise and security in the park, but he told them the street closure would improve the area.

Fitzhugh also unveiled the latest plans for the park. Trees and shrubs would be cleared to open up views and access to the Spokane River, and the Centennial Trail would wind through the park. Two plazas would be built near either end of the park. The south plaza, near the Avista headquarters, would mimic the historic building’s midcentury look. The north plaza would be designed to look like the tall brick building at Upriver and North Center Street built in the early 20th century.

Eleven parking spots would be installed near the southern end of the park, and about 20 at the north end. A proposed roundabout near the north end was scrapped after the city raised objections. Fitzhugh said the Centennial Trail would be built to handle emergency vehicles.

Finally, a ramp for nonmotorized boats would be built.

The current landowners – Avista, the city of Spokane and the state Department of Natural Resources – wouldn’t change, except Avista would purchase the vacated Upriver Drive from the city. The energy company would maintain the facilities, and Fitzhugh said a “memorandum of understanding” would be agreed to by the city and the utility to keep the park open to the public.

Fitzhugh’s presentation took 15 minutes. The remaining time was dominated by questions from the audience.

Besides concerns of traffic congestion, water safety, parking, flooding, pedestrian crossings, fire evacuation routes and train traffic, David King articulated outrage over the area’s homeless population, a sentiment echoed by other speakers.

After saying there were too many homeless people in the area, who he said were “defecating” everywhere, he claimed that “everything on our porches is stolen. They’re dismantling stuff.” His solution: Get rid of the bushes, and the homeless will go away.