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Thursday, February 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Council approves development of Upriver Drive into a new Spokane public park

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 22, 2019

What is now an arterial road should soon be the city’s newest recreational space.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-0 to to close a nearly half-mile stretch of Upriver Drive and replace it with a public park. Councilman Mike Fagan was absent.

Since the plan’s introduction earlier this summer by Avista Corp., neighbors have voiced sharp opposition to it at every opportunity. Monday’s public hearing during the Spokane City Council meeting was no different.

Avista’s proposal, adjacent to its Mission Avenue campus, would transform a narrow stretch of Upriver Drive into a public park, replete with amenities like a rerouted Centennial Trail and a non-motorized boat launch.

A central aim of the project is to provide increased access and connection to the Spokane River. Trees and shrubs not native to the area currently run along the riverbank, but would be cleared as part of Avista’s plan.

Avista would maintain the park and pay to build it. On Monday, it agreed to a condition from the council that it be maintained as a park in perpetuity. Bruce Howard, senior director of environmental affairs for Avista, estimated on Monday that it would cost the company about $2 million to renovate the area into a park.

But it’s not the park that neighborhood residents are worried about.

Residents lined up at the microphone on Monday to express concern regarding the effect on traffic if that section of Upriver Drive is closed.

Most residents spoke against the proposal during the hearing, including those in the Minnehaha neighborhood who use Upriver Drive for their commute, as well as residents of the nearby Riverview Retirement Community, which has a 32-acre campus about a fifth of a mile from the proposed park.

They cited concerns about increased traffic at other intersections, such as Mission Avenue and Perry Street, and access to residences by emergency vehicles.

“I live there, I walk up and down that road with my dog, I go by it all times of the day, and I’m just appalled at the whole proposal,“ said one Riverview resident.

The council did not heed the residents’ warnings, but offered empathy.

Councilwoman Kate Burke acknowledged the issues raised on Monday and told residents her office is always open to residents who wish to discuss the proposal.

She argued the solution to the traffic issues raised on Monday include making sure the North-South Corridor is completed and investing in infrastructure like the Spokane Transit Authority’s Central City Line to reduce traffic congestion.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who voted in favor of the proposal, said she would reach out to the city’s fire and police chiefs and work with the neighborhoods to ensure residents feel safe.

“I understand the concerns, but the city retains right of way, retains easements through all of it, and I think this is a gift to the city, to create a park right along our river,” added Council President Ben Stuckart.

Stuckart said the primary response for the Spokane Fire Department is from fire Station 2, which is on East North Foothills Drive, and it would not require the use of that particular stretch of Upriver Drive.

The Logan and Chief Garry Park neighborhood councils voted in favor of the road closure and park proposal, according to Howard.

One woman spoke in favor of the proposal, noting that the section of the Centennial Trail that runs adjacent to Upriver Drive is “just awful” for runners and the trail’s intersection with Mission Avenue is “confusing for people trying to find the connection to the trail.”

There are two intersections with Mission Avenue at play, one at Perry Street and another just to its east at Upriver Drive. Between, there are crossings over Mission Avenue for the railroad and for the Centennial Trail.

Council member Candace Mumm asked how the proposal would affect traffic at nearby intersections. Mumm noted that she swims at the Witter Aquatic Center, across Mission Avenue, and has viewed the traffic congestion firsthand.

Eldon Brown, a city engineer, said a traffic study was conducted at four nearby intersections. He said the proposal would result in an increased delay of up to 50 seconds at the intersection of Mission Avenue and Perry Street. That could be partly mitigated through an optimization of the traffic signals; Brown said such a plan has yet to be detailed.

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