A united Spokane Park Board on Thursday settled on the location for a dog park to replace one booted by construction of a new middle school on the South Hill.
Members had to overrule the objections of Upriver Drive neighbors, the same type of concerns about public safety, health and traffic that have beleaguered the project for more than a year as park officials scramble to replace a feature in compliance with an agreement they signed with Spokane Public Schools.
“We are up against a schedule consideration here,” Nick Hamad, park planning and development manager for Spokane Parks & Recreation, told the board. “(Spokane Public Schools) has been waiting for us to select a location. There is a good chance, if we delay too long, that the temporary dog park access could be lost.”
Carla Peperzak Middle School is under construction and expected to open this fall.
The new site will be developed on the city’s northeastern edge, off Upriver Drive between the Minnehaha Climbing Rocks and the Camp Sekani trailhead. Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones said earlier this week they hope to have a park open by the end of the year.
The timeline and public notification were questioned by nearby residents, who said they’d been “blindsided” by the project and approval would mean Park Board members were valuing pets over a natural wildlife area and the peace of nearby property owners.
“You could have given us time to fight this fairly,” Melinda Norman, whose family has lived in the area for 39 years, said before the vote.
City Councilman Jonathan Bingle, who represents the district, said he empathized with the concerns of neighbors. He offered to meet with them and provided his cellphone number in case they observed the types of safety concerns they warned about, such as drug use and camping in parking lots.
“I have been somewhat disappointed, not in anybody voicing their opinion, but that it came in the last couple days,” Bingle said.
Jennifer Ogden, a member of the Park Board, spoke directly to concerned neighbors. She suggested that by opposing the park’s development, they were turning their back on a public investment that could actually improve the use of public property in their neighborhood.
“These are good people. The South Hill dog park was known for having people who picked up after their dogs and looked after each other,” Ogden said.
“Most of all, I want you all to think about what you are potentially giving up,” she added.
Chad Mitchell and Linda Valentine, users of the South Hill dog park, said their group had kept the amenity clean and provided ownership. There would not be the kind of criminal activity in the dog park that the neighbors feared, they said.
“We don’t have people sleeping in our dog parks, we don’t have that, and we won’t,” Valentine said. “Please, please, please let Spokane have this location. We need it.”
Tim Jewell, a neighborhood resident, said after the vote he doubted that such a group would form to protect an amenity on the city’s edge in northeast Spokane.
“Are they going to organize all of Hillyard to keep it up?” he asked.
South Hill residents will also have their own smaller dog park at 63rd Avenue and Regal Street, near Mullan Road Elementary, as a part of the action the Spokane Park Board took Thursday. Because the new Upriver park will be a 20-minute drive, at least, for users of the existing dog park, Spokane Public Schools has agreed to partner with parks to build a facility there.
Bingle made a motion asking that a workshop be held to incorporate design ideas that would mitigate some of the concerns provided by neighbors. That was approved.
The Park Board then voted unanimously to move forward with the Upriver location. The vote will allow engineering and design to begin for the project, which will be built with funds raised by Spokane Public Schools.
Initial site plans call for 100-foot setbacks from private property in the area. The work is also not expected to disturb existing mountain bike trails in the area, and in a related agenda item, the Spokane Park Board voted Thursday to award $310,000 to architectural design firm AHBL, Inc., to work up plans for additional parking and trailhead improvements at Camp Sekani and Shields Park in the area.
Neighbors walked out of the meeting Thursday visibly upset by the vote.
“They’re not listening to anything we have to say,” Norman said.