Tuesday night I dusted off my notepad, put on a sweater, and headed down to my first city council meeting in six months.
In summer, it’s hard to stay in tune with local happenings when we only have three short months to catch a tan and jump off rocks at Tubbs. But make no mistake, important decisions are always in the works in a city like Cd’A.
Honestly, I’m no press reporter, and I didn’t go to school for journalism. I’m just a guy who grew up on 19th Street. For some reason, I find politics and community engagement interesting, and sometimes fun! So, I write from my opinion with a few facts sprinkled in, just to be clear.
Personally, I view our city council in a warm light. Mostly good, progressive, and thoughtful individuals, as far as I can tell. And our mayor, though having committed the great sin of working for Hagadone for many years, seems to be a good leader.
Tuesday’s council agenda included discussion about putting in new bike corrals downtown, approving an application for development of property on the river, and an important land swap deal with Ignite.
The ignite property swap was the hot topic of the evening, although the approval of the joint building application was very interesting.
The city owns a lightning bolt shaped piece of land, which runs through the heart of the same property a developer wants to put apartments/condos on. The area runs alongside the Spokane River, right above Riverstone.
In the recording, you will see a confusing, difficult to understand, proposal requiring the city to give consent to the developer to move forward with plans to build high density buildings. The possible benefit to the city is the developer would gift the waterfront area to public use, in turn, for the permission to build on the city’s land. Which would also increase the zoning from 17 units per acre to 34. I assume this means a high rise.
The council struggled to understand this proposal, and in the end, shot it down with a tiebreaking vote by the mayor.
The final discussion about the Ignite Cd’A land swap was why I came, and why many others got up to speak.
Ignite Cd’A has possession of land on Tubbs hill. The city has possession of land in Riverstone. The proposal is to swap this property so the city gets to expand Tubbs, and Ignite gets to sell the riverstone property, for development, to fund future projects.
Local voices spoke up in opposition primarily because the Riverstone property was originally purchased for the centennial trail. This swap would move that trail, possibly shrink it, and increase a hill grade that would negatively affect disabled individuals.
After citizens came up to voice these concerns, the mayor, and other councilors made it clear they would make sure the trials stayed 15 feet wide and the grade would stay at 2%. This decision seemed to appease the people.
I had another thought stirring in the back of my mind when councilmember Gookin spoke, unexpectedly and passionately, to the same concern.
He reminded the council that this land was bought to create corridors of green space through developed areas like Riverstone, and he thought trading this land to acquire the Tubbs Hill lots would come at a cost.
Gookin said what I think so many residents believe.
“…open space is a finite commodity.” “I don’t want to see more houses.”
While voicing his concern to keep this property as it was originally intended, a distinct break in visions emerged between Gookin and the mayor.
He made us consider: are we moving forward to develop every inch of open space, or are we a city trying to preserve the little green spaces we have left, regardless of the allure of tax revenue?
The mayor seemed to take a pro-development position. He visually lost his temper when Gookin took a passionate stance against the pro development rhetoric, which illustrates how easily he became frustrated with views inconsistent with his own.
“We all love parks and trails, but at some point and time you have to have economic development to pay for them, or you’re going to raise someone’s taxes” – Mayor Steve Widmyer
In the end, they voted 6-1 to approve this land swap, and in some ways that is great. The city gets back a piece of Tubbs that will be there forever. Unfortunately, in return, we move a bike path from having trees and grass surrounding it, to being smashed down to the last inch. The path will now be surrounded by retaining walls on one side and a line of new condos on the other side, which no one working in Cd’A could ever afford.
So, though it was maybe a small example of the competing ideologies, to me it felt clear.
As a city, are we ready to develop every inch of space when it feels right to generate tax revenue for other funding? Or do we consider other environmental externalities, such as preserving the last little bits of open green space that still exists along our water lines?
Is this just a question of economics, or maybe an environmental or ethical conundrum?