Jay Molitor is challenging Millwood City Council member Andy Van Hees for his seat in the November election and said he was inspired to run because of an ongoing community debate around whether the city should build a park on two parcels of land it owns along the Spokane River.
The city purchased the two vacant residential lots, located next to 8319 E. South Riverway, in 2016. The City Council recently voted to approve changing the comprehensive plan designation on the land from residential to public reserve.
Dozens of people testified before the planning commission and sent in written comments to protest the proposal based on the belief the city wants to build a park there. Many residents pointed to a series of emails sent by then-City Clerk Tom Richardson to the Spokane Conservation District in 2016 asking for funding to buy the lots for a park. He included a two-page proposal for a “South Riverway Park.”
Molitor said he doesn’t believe the City Council paid much attention to the voluminous public comment, most of which was opposed to the comprehensive plan change. “They made up their minds this was going to happen,” he said.
The land is near the western Millwood city limits, and Molitor said a park there would only benefit a few. He said he believes a park would cost more than $1 million and said spending that kind of money isn’t fiscally responsible.
“Obviously I have a vested interest because it’s only three lots away from me,” he said.
Although Millwood has a park near its city hall, it does not have a park on its riverfront.
Van Hees said the city has no firm plans about what to do with the land, which he said could also be used for stormwater collection. He said many people in the community are fixated on the idea that it could be a park. The land is still zoned residential, and the city has said the zoning would have to be changed before a park could be built.
“That’s what somebody suggested first, and that’s what everybody ran with,” he said. “We already own the land. With the comprehensive plan adjusted we can use the property for public use. There’s so many things we can do with that property.”
Van Hees said he might consider a park if it includes displays of information about native fish and PCB contamination in the river. “This is a great piece of property even if you can’t touch the river,” he said.
Both candidates have a lengthy history in Millwood and the surrounding area. Van Hees said his family owned an apple orchard and ran a store in Spokane Valley for many years. “We’ve been in the Valley forever,” he said.
As a teen Van Hees, 41, worked for his father, who later sold the orchard and store and started a cement finishing company where Van Hees again worked for him. He’s worked as a cement mason laborer for Garco Construction for the past 13 years.
He first became involved in Millwood by serving on a shoreline committee for a year. “I love the river,” he said. “The river means a great deal to me.”
He then served on the planning commission for three years before running for a City Council seat four years ago. Serving on the council has been fun, Van Hees said, but he was surprised to learn how much things cost. “That’s been the biggest part,” he said.
He became interested in city government after his first son was born.
“I have three boys at home,” he said. “I want to maintain what we have for them. A lot of stuff I did when I was little is gone. I didn’t want that to happen to them.”
Molitor, 73, grew up in Spokane and has lived in Millwood for 40 years. He started working for Roundup Co., a division of Fred Meyer, in 1967. The company was later sold to West Coast and then SuperValu. He stayed with the company in a variety of roles before he retired in 2003. His last position was vice president of business development, which he did for six years.
He said it was the proposed park that prompted him to run for mayor two years ago. “It was the same reason,” he said. “I just thought at the time that it wasn’t in the best interest of all of Millwood.”
Molitor said he isn’t running on that issue alone. He said he wants to improve the city’s core to make it more like the Perry and Garland districts in Spokane. Busy traffic on Argonne Road is an issue and he would like more bike lanes to be added in the city. “We want to be a bicycle friendly city,” he said.
Molitor also wants the city to have its own police force. He said he doesn’t know how large it should be or what it would cost, but points to the town of Reardan as his inspiration.
Millwood has a law enforcement contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, but Molitor said a single deputy is assigned to a large area that includes Millwood. He said there are sometimes lengthy waits for a response.
“We’ve had issues, break-ins and thefts,” he said. “I think we need more law enforcement.”
If the city did have its own police, Molitor said, he’s not sure how the issue of courts and judges would be handled. “I don’t know how that would be,” he said. “They used to have that. I honestly don’t know why they stopped doing that.”
Molitor is a snowbird, typically spending about three months in Honolulu every year. “It’s almost like a second home for us,” he said.
If he is elected he said he would cut back on his time away but would still spend time in Hawaii every winter and attend meetings via phone or Skype. “I’m going to be fiscally responsible and represent all the city of Millwood in a fiscally responsible way,” he said. “I think that’s being overlooked.”
Van Hees said policing is an issue because it costs too much money for speeding patrols and other proactive measures but said the city can’t afford to have its own police force. “It’s crazy expensive to get anything done,” he said. “We don’t have our own judicial system. We can’t have police.”
He said he thinks the Sheriff’s Office does a good job. “I’ve never had a time when they didn’t show up when I called,” he said.
He said he makes it a point to attend every monthly council meeting and that he tries to be impartial as a council member.
“The first job of any position is to fill your seat,” he said. “I listen to everyone involved in every incident. I don’t take sides. I don’t have a personal agenda.”
He also believes he adds an important voice to the council. “I’m the only councilman on the east side of Argonne,” he said. “I sometimes think we’re the forgotten side of Argonne.”
In the end he just wants Millwood to be a great place to live, Van Hees said. “I want to make where I live a place where you don’t need a vacation to get away from it,” he said. “It’s a thankless job. You’ll never make everyone happy.”
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