To city engineers, it’s the ideal spot for a water tower – flat and open, publicly owned land at just the right elevation.
But to nearby residents, it’s a neighborhood park.
After a community survey wrapped up on Wednesday, city officials are planning their next steps in the development of a 100-foot water tower in Hamblen Park, the construction of which could begin as early as next year.
Though Hamblen Park is less developed than other South Hill parks like Manito and Comstock, neighborhood residents have told city officials they prefer it remain that way instead of as the home to a new reservoir.
The tower would benefit residents in every home south of 14th Avenue, according to the city, ensuring adequate supply during peak water usage during the summer months or during emergencies, such as a fire.
After an extensive search, Hamblen Park checked off every box for the city. It’s a publicly owned and flat green space of more than an acre, located close to water lines, above 2,300 feet in elevation and near the center of the area it will serve.
“The goal here is to provide the service that this part of the community needs in terms of water, and do it in a way that meets all the technical requirements, of course, but also is least impactful,” city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.
Simply, the city argues that the water tower meets a long-neglected need identified more than a decade ago, but never funded as resources were poured into other projects. And while it’s not ideal for neighboring residents, city officials say placing the tower at Hamblen Park is the best option.
That’s not to say it’s the only option.
Though the favorite of city engineers, Hamblen Park was one of nearly a dozen options engineers considered, but each had drawbacks. Lincoln Park, for example, is close to a perfect match, but it’s 4,000 feet farther from a water main, increasing the project cost by an estimated 50%.
A tower had once been planned at 31st Avenue and Napa Street, just east of the Touchmark on South Hill retirement home. But officials pulled back when they learned the extent to which they would have had to remove rock to build the tower.
The city expects to officially select a site this fall and begin the permitting process this winter. Construction, under the current timeline, could begin as early as next year.
The current estimated cost of the Hamblen Park water tower project is about $5 million, although that figure could change as planning continues, Feist said.
The city has worked to assure residents that the impact on the park should be minimal. The tower would be planted on the center of the park’s southern side and require the clearing of about 200 square feet of trees.
While the city acknowledges the tower will impact neighboring homes, it notes that the nearest residence will be 350 feet away.
In recognition of the tower’s impact, the city pledged to work with neighborhood residents to plan improvements either at Hamblen Park, or another nearby neighborhood park that could essentially serve as a replacement.
The tower would be about 50 to 60 feet wide at its base and 90 to 100 feet across at its widest point, a shape chosen to ensure adequate water pressure. Its color would be decided following public input.
The tank can’t be buried because, in order for the system to work properly, it must be at the same elevation as reservoirs on 33rd Avenue and Lamont Street, and in Garden Park on 37th Avenue and Stone Street.
And because it’s above ground, the tank’s top will be adorned with blinking lights to warn off passing planes.
The city has been inundated with opinions since the project was formally announced, with many residents voicing opposition to the proposal in written letters and neighborhood meetings.
Michael “Mick” Soss, who lives across from the park, told The Spokesman-Review it’s difficult to place a water tower directly in the middle of an already-developed neighborhood without sparking pushback.
“It just kind of bothers people,” Soss said. “I know it’s needed, so I’m not going to say I’m not in favor of it, I just wish it was somewhere else.”
Spokane residents Drew and Lisa Repp live in the neighborhood and expressed their dismay in a letter to the Park Board this month.
Drew Repp wrote that he was raised in the neighborhood and chose it to raise his family, who regularly visits Hamblen Park.
To trade a park for a water tower, Drew Repp wrote, is to “disregard the preciousness of parks and the impact they have on individual lives, and reduce them to just another interchangeable part of commerce and industry.”
Yan Densmore also pleaded for city officials to drop the plans.
“The value of natural areas or undeveloped parks in our communities is something we can not take for granted,” Densmore wrote.
Maxine G. Lammers, another neighborhood resident, wrote city officials in support of the project, welcoming the park improvements that might follow it.
“Although I’m not excited about a water tower blocks from my home, I am willing to acquiesce based on the need and the due diligence that has been undertaken,” Lammers wrote.
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