Proposed Spokane land sale to climbing gym developer flies against recommendations

The proposed sale of city parkland to a private climbing gym developer goes against recommendations made by Spokane’s assistant city attorney in 2008 and 2009.

At that time, Pat Dalton, the assistant city attorney, informed the city that any sale or transfer of the lot must be approved by a public vote, according to memos obtained by The Spokesman Review.

Last week, city of Spokane officials announced a plan that would involve the sale of the property to a private, Utah-based climbing gym developer. That sale appears to violate the city charter, which requires a public vote on any sale of parkland.

However, Mayor David Condon said the deal likely won’t violate the city charter, because the land was never used as a park. The charter language states that the neither city council nor the park board can “sell or exchange any existing park or portion thereof.”

City officials argue that the property, often referred to as the Bosch Lot after previous owners of the land, has never been a park, and thus is exempt from the charter provision.

Still, Condon said if it becomes necessary, the city will ask a judge to rule on the definitions and whether a sale would violate the city charter. Ultimately, the Park Board will vote on whether or not to sell the land. Chris Wright, the president of the Park Board, did not return a message seeking comment.

The Riverfront Park Master Plan calls specifically for a public-private development for “park-owned property as ‘climbing gym.’ ”

“To sit on these properties and not have them available for public use is not the answer,” Condon said.

The city attorney also mentioned the distinction in language in a 2008 memo. He concludes that “the safer approach would be to submit the issue to the voters.”

“From the Center of Justice’s perspective, we think it’s extremely important that the process be followed, particularly for parklands,” said Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt.

Eichstaedt said he isn’t against the project itself. It just has to be done the right way, he said.

“The city attorney’s own analysis seems like a smoking gun of why this approach isn’t legal,” Eichstaedt said of the memos, which he has read.

“The process has to be followed,” he said. “If the charter says send it to the people it has to go to the people.”

An additional hurdle to selling or leasing the land has to do with how it was purchased. Because the property was bought with federal and state money, any sale, lease or transfer has to be approved by the secretary of housing and urban development and the chairman of the Washington state Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, according to Dalton’s memo.

Condon said the city is communicating with the state to “make sure those dollars are used in a way that are consistent with those requirements.”

Last week, Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city would be open to…

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