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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Landowner sues Avista, claims utility work will prevent South Hill condo project

Diana Roberts and Jeff Corkill walk the trails of the Tuscan Ridge on Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the steep bluffs running near 57th and Hatch. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Diana Roberts and Jeff Corkill walk the trails of the Tuscan Ridge on Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the steep bluffs running near 57th and Hatch. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The landowner hoping to build a long-proposed condominium development on Spokane’s South Hill bluffs is suing Avista Corp., claiming utility pole work three years ago will prevent the project from moving forward as planned.

Yong Lewis filed a complaint in Spokane County on Nov. 26, alleging the utility provider trespassed onto the 23-acre property she owns while replacing power poles along a 2.75-mile stretch of bluff land southwest of town. The work, which took place in November and December 2016, caused irreparable erosion that is preventing the 100-unit Tuscan Ridge development from being built as approved by the city, according to the lawsuit.

Aspyn Butzler, the attorney representing Lewis, said the plans for the development are “very, very specific” due to the topography of the land and that any change to the landscape would likely require alterations and additional engineering studies.

“I don’t believe that it is impossible” to build a development on the land as a result of the work, Butzler said, but the changes caused by the alleged trespass could require a new round of city scrutiny, she said.

In 2016, Avista began replacing 1940s-era power poles in the forested area popular with trail enthusiasts, finishing the work the following year. Wooden poles were replaced with taller, more resilient steel structures in an effort to also increase electricity supply to that part of town. Burying the lines is not a feasible option, according to the utility.

In the midst of the project, an illegal road was bulldozed on the South Hill bluffs to provide access to a planned par 3 golf course that was canceled amid the legal battles that followed.

Through a spokeswoman, Avista declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. But the utility said it was surprised by the legal action, as the company “had been previously working with the landowner to identify and address any reasonable concerns they might have had regarding potential damage to their property resulting from Avista’s work.”

Friends of the Bluff, a nonprofit group pushing for conservation of the natural features of the trail system, was unaware of the legal action taken by Lewis, said Pat Keegan, president of the group. The group has pushed for conservation of the Tuscan Ridge property, including lobbying Spokane County to include the bluff land in its list of land to acquire and preserve for outdoor recreation.

“Tuscan Ridge is really a key access point,” Keegan said.

Plans for the development include an access point to the trails, but it would be many times steeper than the slope of the Monroe Street hill on Spokane’s north side, according to materials supplied to the county by Friends of the Bluff. The development would also push wildlife that live in the area into a tighter corridor down the hill, nearer to Latah Creek, the nonprofit argues.

Plans for the hillside development have been in discussion for more than a decade. Local residents raised concerns before Lewis’ plans for the development were approved by the city in 2013. Neighbors argued to City Hall at the time that the development would cause erosion and washout threatening other homes in the area.

Keegan said Avista had been a good partner with the trail preservation group throughout the power pole replacement project, and that members had several meetings with representatives of the utility throughout the process. He also pointed to Avista’s assistance in replanting and restoring earth after the road was bulldozed as evidence the utility had tried to minimize the effects of its pole project.

“Avista was really open about that,” Keegan said. “We were in many meetings with them about trying to make sure they did what they could to protect the property. There were a couple of little things we’d have liked to be done differently.”

The lawsuit is not yet assigned to a judge, according to Spokane County court records. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February.

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