On a cold, cloudy Monday afternoon, builders worked on the skeletal frame of a home in the Summerfield development near East Valley Middle School.
There was construction on the pine-covered hill to the north, too, a quarter-mile away.
But lying in between the active developments sat a flat, vast and curiously vacant lot.
It was blanketed in snow and overgrown with weeds. Three red-tailed hawks watched over it from the ponderosas on the west end. A covey of California quail, 30 strong, chittered and foraged in the brush along the land’s boundary with Forker Road.
These 24.5 acres of real estate now belong to Spokane Valley, following a donation by longtime developer Ken Tupper and his partners in Five Fifty LLC. Some day, this land will likely become a park.
Spokane Valley City Council accepted Five Fifty LLC’s donation during its Dec. 14 meeting. The land was free, although the city paid $6,400 in closing costs.
Per Spokane County’s map server, the four parcels that make up the donation have a combined assessed value of $545,000, although Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard said he believes the property’s true worth is closer to $1 million.
The donation was unrestricted and council members said they’re not sure yet what type of park the land could become. Baseball and softball fields are a possibility. City Councilman Ben Wick said he’d like to solicit public feedback before the city decides what would work best on the land.
Council members said northeastern Spokane Valley sorely needed the donation.
“That’s the only place in the Valley that doesn’t have park land,” City Councilman Tim Hattenburg said. “Boy, talk about a gift.”
Woodard said he believes the donation might be the biggest the city has ever received.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said. “It will be noted in the history of Spokane Valley when it’s written.”
End of one journey, start of another
Attempts to reach Tupper both over the phone and through city staff were unsuccessful. Spokane Valley City Manager John Hohman told The Spokesman-Review that Tupper did not want to be interviewed for this story.
But in the Dec. 14 City Council meeting, Tupper explained part of the long, complicated history of the property.
In 1979, Tupper bought the land that includes the 24.5 acres. He began building houses on it but in 1984 learned that 50% of the land he’d purchased sat in a floodplain.
For a quarter-century, Tupper and Stan Schultz, his attorney, tried to figure out some sort of project that could be built on the land or some way to remove the floodplain designation.
“After 25 years, we were unable to accomplish any of that,” Tupper said.
Soon after Spokane Valley became a city in 2003, Tupper and Schultz arranged a meeting with Hohman, who used to be the city’s senior development engineer. The trio had a conversation about “the benefits of seeing if that floodplain could be resolved,” Tupper said.
“It wasn’t singularly for our benefit,” Tupper said. “It was really for a broader benefit. First of all, yes, we would benefit because we would be able to build some more homes. But separate apart from that, the issue that we had was water was coming down the Forker Draw with no direct way for it to go other than it just to flood.”
Tupper said that the homes in the area weren’t at risk of flooding, but there was still a lot of water that sometimes got near the homes and he wanted to control it.
A water mitigation system would help area homeowners, Tupper said. He said that many were paying $150 to $300 a month for flood insurance that they probably didn’t need.
Tupper, Schultz and Spokane Valley city staff began discussing how they could handle the flooding and eliminate the need for people to pay for flood insurance.
“We put in drainage ponds, we put in dry wells and all those type of things and we expended about $250,000 putting all of those improvements in,” Tupper said.
But building that infrastructure caught the attention of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“They kind of came unglued,” Tupper said. “We ended up having a meeting, and basically they came from Seattle – driving cars, flying airplanes – Department of Ecology and everybody, and they really questioned why the city of the Valley would get involved in doing the things that they were doing.”
Tupper said Hohman explained to FEMA and the Department of Ecology why controlling the water was in everyone’s best interest.
“When they left the meeting, we had all agreed that we would work with FEMA to change the designation of that floodplain, and with that that would allow the insurance aspect of people outside the area not to have to have flood insurance,” Tupper said.
Hohman said in an interview that FEMA often leaves floodplain analyses to municipalities. In this instance, city staff spent nine years working on the analysis and FEMA signed off on it.
“After nine years, we got our approval,” Tupper said. “Forty-five years this journey went on, and finally we were able to get that accomplished. That allowed us to go ahead and proceed and build out the rest of the project.”
Tupper said Five Fifty LLC wanted to donate the land to Spokane Valley as a gesture of gratitude for city staff’s years of hard work and assistance. He thanked Building and Planning Administrative Assistant Deanna Horton, Senior Development Engineer Henry Allen and Hohman by name.
“We are very, very appreciative of all the things that the Spokane Valley has been able to do for us,” Tupper said.