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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Owner of Blessings preschool fears losing wooded area near Underhill Park that’s slated for development

Underhill Park neighbor Sam Mace walks her dog Jackson through the forested natural area on the hillside above the park in East Central Neighborhood in Spokane on Oct. 6. Mace hopes to prevent a development project in these woods but admits it’s an uphill climb.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Underhill Park neighbor Sam Mace walks her dog Jackson through the forested natural area on the hillside above the park in East Central Neighborhood in Spokane on Oct. 6. Mace hopes to prevent a development project in these woods but admits it’s an uphill climb. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Neighbors are still fighting a proposed development on private, vacant land next to East Central’s Underhill Park, but say there is still some hope they can preserve the land used by residents and wildlife alike.

Summer Blessing operates the Blessing Farm and Forest preschool out of her home, which is right next to the vacant land. Nature is an integral part of her curriculum.

“It’s all outdoors, and we have a little farm out back,” she said. “We have goats and chickens and rabbits and gardens. It’s right next to the forest.”

She and her staff often bring her students to the vacant land and the park. In addition to playing on the wooded land, they learn about nature and make up stories about the animals who live there. One part in particular they like to visit they’ve nicknamed “Log Land.” It’s an area where several dangerous trees were cut down and left where they fell. That particular area is owned by the city of Spokane, but the proposed Ben Burr Estates development would still impact it.

“That is right where they are wanting to put in a road,” Blessing said. “They’re going to connect these two dead end roads right through Log Land and next to the sledding hill.”

Blessing said she’s seen hawks, woodpeckers, turkeys and moose on the property in addition to the neighborhood squirrels. She’s worried that if the wooded land is developed, the forest would lose its magic.

“There’s going to be construction for a very long time,” she said. “Who knows what will happen to the animals?”

Neighbor Sam Mace, who lives right below the proposed development, has been one of the leaders of the effort to stop the development and keep the vacant land as it is. She said she had approached the previous owner of the land several times to offer to buy it so it could be preserved, but she never heard anything back. Then it was sold to the current owners, who proposed a small housing development on the site.

Mace said everything is currently in flux. The neighborhood council committee that has been formed to address the issue made a presentation before the Lands Committee of the Spokane Park Board. They were receptive to the idea of the city managing the land if it can be purchased, but can’t buy it themselves.

“They don’t have the money in the bank right now to purchase it,” she said.

The land owners are amenable to selling, but want $50,000 by December and then $500,000 for the entire property. Mace said she’s been talking to land conservation groups about purchasing the land, but such discussions take time. She’s also been trying to get a bridge loan until money can be raised to pay for the land or a conservation group agrees to buy it.

Mace said she’s hopeful, but acknowledges there’s a big hill to climb.

“It’s a Hail Mary here,” she said.

One of the things that gives her hope is neighbors are increasingly speaking out about the project.

“I’ve never seen so much engagement and concern from people,” she said.

Mace said Underhill Park and the vacant land next to it are important in the neighborhood, which has an increasing amount of high density housing.

“Where are those people going to recreate?” she said. “This is the place. Where else do we have? This development will really alter the character and feel of the park.”

Blessing said she hasn’t talked about the proposed development with her students and doesn’t plan to unless it’s necessary. She believes the children would be upset by the news.

“I think there would be major sadness and grief,” she said. “Log Land is part of our family.”

Blessing said she’s been to two recent neighborhood council meetings where the development was discussed and said she’s hopeful a solution can be found.

“I want to see more families, more children, in the forest,” she said. “It’s just really a special place in the middle of the city.”

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