After losing in the general election in November, Mayor Richard Munson said that acquiring the right-of-way for the eastern extension of Appleway Boulevard past University Road was one of his bigger regrets.
“I wish we could have gotten Appleway resolved,” he said.
Now, according to Spokane County commissioners, the ball will be in the court of the new City Council.
On Dec. 14, city staffers received a letter from the commissioners stating that the Milwaukee Railroad right-of-way the county owns will stay in their hands for the time being. In the letter, the commissioners state “the County’s vision for the corridor is that it will accommodate automobile traffic and alternate means of travel” and that they are “interested in meeting with your new council to discuss your objectives and desires regarding this property.”
“That makes sense,” Munson – who will cede his seat to Bob McCaslin in January – said last week. “I think (the commissioners) are setting up the parameters of negotiation.”
While the city has yet to respond to the letter, Mike Connelly, city attorney, says that the city is “looking forward to resolving the issue” in 2010. However, any direction the city will take will be at the new council’s direction.
“We’re always trying to work with the council,” he said.
On Wednesday last week, the remaining new City Council members – Brenda Grassel, Bob McCaslin and Tom Towey – were sworn in. All three, along with current members Gary Schimmels and Dean Grafos, make up a slate of candidates who campaigned under a promise of “Positive Change,” which had fiscal prudence and lower taxes as one of its characteristics. Since the cash-strapped county may require financial compensation for its “significant” investment in the property, the new council may not be quick to move forward with negotiations.
Earlier in the year, the Washington Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the city of Spokane Valley over ownership of the right-of-way, which city planners had deemed necessary with future development of a city center at University City and the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan. With neither of those projects likely to move forward under the new City Council, there may not be much movement to resume efforts to acquire the Appleway extension.
The crux of the problem has been the county’s wish for the city to purchase an additional 28 feet of property along the right-of-way that will allow for mass transit. While in some areas that land is already available, there are “pinch points” where property would have to be purchased to provide for the extra space, which could conceivable accommodate a light rail line or rapid-transit commuter buses.
Spokane Transit Authority, in the past, has been amenable to buying that land.
Spokane County – and, by extension, taxpayers living in then-unincorporated Spokane Valley – purchased the right-of-way for $3.5 million in 1980 for future use as a high-speed arterial between Liberty Lake and the city of Spokane. At that time, it was never considered that a city of Spokane Valley would ever incorporate and have its own designs for the property.