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Spokane Valley Councilwoman Laura Padden wants city to consider parkland for housing

June 28, 2022 Updated Thu., June 30, 2022 at 9:23 p.m.

A Spokane Valley official wants the city to discuss converting a public park to housing, but the proposal would likely face adamant opposition from neighborhood residents.

Councilwoman Laura Padden said last month she wants staff and elected officials to consider repurposing Castle Park.

Padden said the proposal is merely a concept at this point. The City Council will discuss it further at a future meeting.

Castle Park is a 50-year-old, 2.7-acre rectangle of well-kept grass without a teeter-totter, baseball field or bathroom in sight. The park lies near the intersection of Dishman Mica and University roads, a mile west of University High School.

Padden said she sees an opportunity to address the region’s housing shortage.

“The rents have gone up sky high, and people can’t pay them and it’s exacerbating the housing crisis and the homelessness,” Padden said. “They get booted out and they have nowhere to go.”

Repurposing Castle Park into a residential development could be part of the solution, Padden said, adding that she’d prefer to see single-family homes.

Padden also emphasized that Camp Caro Community Park is nearby at the northern entrance to Dishman Hills. Plus, the city plans to develop a park about a mile away, Padden said, referring to the City Council’s $1.6 million purchase last year of 17.7 acres in the Ponderosa neighborhood.

“In that particular area, I would think we’re covered pretty good,” Padden said.

Governments don’t often turn parkland into housing. Some jurisdictions would have a hard time doing it.

For instance, Spokane’s city charter requires a sale or exchange of park land be approved by a vote of the people.

Removing Castle Park would likely face strong community opposition, too, even if it’s rather plain.

KayLee Gutierrez, whose home borders Castle Park, said the concept “sounds terrible.”

“I would not want to see it become housing, absolutely not,” she said.

Mary Laughlin has lived next to the park since 1983 and doesn’t want to see it change.

“I hope in my lifetime nothing builds back there,” Laughlin said. “We can’t give up our green space.”

Chris Clark lives across the street from Castle Park. He said his kids use it all the time because his house doesn’t have a big yard. He doesn’t want to lose it.

“It would suck for my family,” he said. “That would be a shame.”

Neighborhood residents said lots of people walk their dogs at Castle Park. Girls soccer teams practice there. Faith Soule said her daughter runs around on the grass and flies kites. Hot air balloons sometimes use it as a take-off site.

Some neighbors acknowledged the need for more housing.

Kelly Dawn said she doesn’t want Castle Park to go away. But if it does become housing, Dawn said she wants it to be affordable.

“They need to create housing that people can actually move in to and get off the streets,” she said.

Clark said he also understands there’s a housing shortage and developable property is scarce. He explained that he gets Padden’s intent, but he’s not sure adding 2.7 acres worth of housing will have much of an impact.

“I think you’re sacrificing more than you’re getting back,” he said. “Land’s a resource that doesn’t regenerate.”

Councilman Tim Hattenburg said he’s unsure if he supports Padden’s idea. He said he needs more detailed information on how the land repurposing would work.

It’s possible that selling Castle Park could generate revenue that might allow the city to improve parks elsewhere, he said. The land is valued at a bit under $500,000, according to the Spokane County assessor’s office, although that valuation hasn’t budged much in the past five years and is likely out of date.

At the same time, Hattenburg noted the city probably won’t develop a park in the Ponderosa neighborhood soon, so it might be better to leave Castle Park alone.

“It’s really the only green space in that area,” he said.

Councilman Rod Higgins said he hasn’t made up his mind on Padden’s idea.

“I’m of mixed emotion,” he said. “I’m not sure I really have any thoughts.”

If it doesn’t become housing, Castle Park might eventually become more than a grass rectangle. In its parks master plan, Spokane Valley says it hopes to add at some point a playground, sports court, splashpad, drinking fountains, picnic shelter and restrooms.

Padden emphasized that she isn’t adamant about turning Castle Park into housing. She just wants the City Council to talk about it.

“I just want to start a conversation,” she said. “Obviously, I don’t want to shove anything down anybody’s throat.”

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