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Angle of a Deal 

by Joel SMith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & rom the top of the cliff on Hatch Road, way up on the back end of the South Hill, it seems like you can almost see to Pullman. The sun sets across the Latah Creek valley floor, behind the ridge on the opposite side. The trees sway almost imperceptibly in the wind.





Looking out on all this, you can see why someone might be disposed to pay hundreds of thousands to enjoy that view every day from their balcony, bedroom or toilet. Looking down, though, you can see why they might be a little hesitant.





If local developers get their way, 25 acres of the steep, muddy hillside running down near Hatch Road could one day be Tuscan Ridge, a development of 100 condo units, many of them anchored to the earth on tall stilts.





But some of the neighbors on Hatch and in the adjacent Quail Ridge gated community aren't keen on the idea. Paul Zimmerman, an engineer and a Quail Ridge resident, points out what he sees as three major problems with the proposal: traffic, trails and landslides.





Zimmerman says the soil isn't stable enough to support the kind of project that's being proposed and brings up "the angle of repose... one of the first things you learn in Soil Study 101." Take a handful of soil, he says, and drop it on a flat surface. The angle at which the cone of soil freely settles tells you something -- how dense the granules are, how sturdy the pile is. That's the angle of repose. Zimmerman says the soil on the steep slope below Hatch Road runs from 40 to 60 degrees, averaging around 50. That's not very stable for building, he says: "I know in Bellevue, for instance, you have a 40 percent grade, forget it."





Joe Delay, a local real estate attorney and another Quail Ridge resident, agrees. He says some homes on the ridge-side of his development have already had to replace their windows because of settling problems, though the development is barely 20 years old.





Delay and Zimmerman both express concern over traffic impacts on Hatch Road, which on a recent Monday afternoon was besieged with cars heading in both directions. They also worry that a system of trails cutting across the private property, which are often used by locals, might vanish.





Zimmerman evokes adverse possession, a common law principle that states that one party can acquire title to a piece of private property if they possess it for long enough. He and Delay agree that the principle applies here, that neighbors' use of the trails for walking and biking make them a public asset.





Calls placed to Hahn Engineering, the firm doing the legwork for property owner Yong Lewis, were not returned. But Dave Compton, the city planner in charge of the Tuscan Ridge project, says there are no grounds for adverse possession. "There's nothing to back that up," he says, adding that the developer has already agreed to maintain the trails (even though they're currently in disrepair while geological tests are conducted, he says).





Compton agrees that traffic impacts are a concern, but seems to downplay the instability of the soil. While he concurs that the sandy, loamy soil in the area is less than stable, he doesn't believe it's an insurmountable obstacle to development. "With enough money," he says, "you could engineer anything, including [a hole] to China."





Or Tuscany.
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