Pin It

Is This The End of Neighborhood Power? 

One neighborhood group worries it's losing a seat at the table

click to enlarge Rick Eichstaedt, who\'s representing the North Indian Trail Council in a court fight with large implications. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Rick Eichstaedt, who\'s representing the North Indian Trail Council in a court fight with large implications.

In a dispute over the building of a north Spokane housing project, developer Barnes Road LLC wants to make one thing clear:

This is between them and the city, and it certainly doesn’t involve the North Indian Trail Council, which is trying to join the city’s side in the case.

If a judge grants the developer’s motion to have the neighborhood council thrown off the case, the council worries it could set a dangerous precedent and dramatically shrink neighborhood groups’ powers.

“We think our right to sue is being threatened by this,” says John Dietzman, the past co-chairman of the North Indian Trail Neighborhood Council. “We feel there is strong case law to support the position that we should be able to intervene.”

But Barnes Road’s attorney, Stacy Bjordahl, says the neighborhood council lacks the authority to file a brief in the city’s defense, as it is petitioning to do. “There are court rules that govern when a party or an association is allowed to intervene in a lawsuit, and it’s our position that they fail to meet those qualifications to participate,” Bjordahl says. She is expected to file the last in a flurry of briefs over the issue this week.

In 2006, Barnes Road began permitting a proposed 14-acre development of single- and multifamily homes and duplexes. The next year, the city informed them that they would have to do more studies in order for the project to go ahead, according to a complaint filed by the developers.

So the developers worked for three years to get the plans ready, according to their complaint. They approached the city again to move forward with the permit, but after an exchange of letters and meetings, the city informed them that the permit had expired.

Barnes Road went to the hearing examiner.

The hearing examiner ruled against them, too, saying that the permit actually expired back in 2007.

At the same time, the hearing examiner found that the city had violated its own ordinances by allowing the permitting to take so long. The developers then took the city to court, asking for the hearing examiner’s decision to be reversed and the city to pay for damages.

“Our hard costs out of pocket for just doing engineering and surveys is $120,000,” Bjordahl says. But it could be more. The developers spent money for three years on the assumption that the permits were still valid. Damages could run over $1 million, she estimates.

Meanwhile, North Indian Trail last year joined two other neighborhood councils to hire a lawyer and file a motion to intervene in the case.

“It’s in a environmentally sensitive, possibly geologically sensitive area,” Dietzman says. “It will simply destroy all that by building three-story apartments on a highly sensitive hillside.”

But Bjordahl argues that the council would be taking a stance contrary to the city.

“The argument they are making to the court is that the city attorney’s office is not advocating a position that the neighborhood council agrees with,” Bjordahl says. “They want their own separate seat at the table to advocate its position.”

Assistant City Attorney James Richman, who is handling this case, declined to comment.

But the neighborhood council’s attorney, Rick Eichstaedt, says that if the council has a difference of opinion with the city, that’s all the more reason to allow it to file.

“By saying that, she’s actually furthering the argument in the city’s interest,” says Eichstaedt, who filed a brief in response to Barnes Road last week. “Courts have always said that government has different interests than nonprofits or neighborhood groups.”

As to whether or not a ruling against the council would spell doom for neighborhood councils citywide, Eichstaedt was cautious.

“The decision of a Superior Court judge doesn’t have a lot of … value,” Eichstaedt says. “Despite that legal technicality, folks are going to remember that. If the judge hangs their hat on this specific provision, we’ll have neighborhoods opting out of the former neighborhood council provision, or they’ll be forming separate organizations for the purposes of defending their legal rights.”

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Token Democracy
  • Token Democracy

    Would letting Washington voters give taxpayer money to politicians reduce the power of interest groups — or just subsidize politicians?
    • Oct 20, 2016

    Breaking down some of the issues you'll get to vote on this year
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Shea's World
  • Shea's World

    As Matt Shea seeks re-election, his presence may be felt more in other local races than in his own
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion

Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 31

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Chris Stein

  • Ready for Anything
  • Ready for Anything

    Developing agility may help prevent injury
    • Sep 1, 2012
  • PAML's Next Step
  • PAML's Next Step

    Francisco Velazquez insists on symmetry. Even sitting at a huge table flanked by leather-backed chairs and a jumble of expensive video equipment, he makes sure his Blackberry and iPhone (the former for business, the latter for pleasure) are situated in neat symmetry with each other.
    • Sep 1, 2012
  • Burns Out
  • Burns Out

    As the city scrambles to keep Tim Burns around for a while longer, the police ombudsman says he may leave his post anyway
    • Aug 22, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment



green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation