The Spokane City Council reversed course Monday and approved a land deal with the Union Gospel Mission that had been shelved regarding concerns that the city had negotiated a one-sided deal with a religious organization.
The agreement will give the organization several parcels of city property and in exchange the city will have the right to build a stormwater treatment project on the land, which is currently a small park at the edge of the Spokane river. UGM also agreed to maintain the property exchanged in the deal.
The stormwater project will filter out pollutants before they enter the Spokane River.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said most council members changed their mind after meeting with Kyle Twohig, the city’s director of engineering, and learning new details about the deal.
The council initially didn’t know that the land given to UGM reverts back to the city if UGM ever sold its property. He said council members also didn’t realize the streets that would be vacated through the deal would be extremely difficult for the city to bring up to standard if it retained them.
The council also amended the deal to increase oversight on UGM’s maintenance of the stormwater project, requiring the shelter to maintain it to city standards.
Candace Mumm, the only council member to vote no, said she wanted the city to keep the riverfront property it gave to UGM and maintain it themselves.
“I’m an advocate of making the best use of the land the city already owns,” she said.
When the deal was first presented last month, some community members spoke out against it, saying the city shouldn’t be doing business with an organization that doesn’t hire LGBTQ people or allow transgender people to stay in its shelters.
The council indefinitely deferred it a few weeks later, but council members said they were concerned about an unfair swap, and did not oppose the deal because of UGM’s policies.
The mayor, who wrote a letter asking them to reconsider the UGM agreement, said he was “flabbergasted” by the council’s decision, which could put the city at risk of losing a $1 million grant for the project.
Stuckart said if the council didn’t approve the deal early in the construction season, the city could miss it’s window to build the stormwater treatment project this summer.
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