City Council: Town Square Park receives long-awaited green light
By Craig Howard
After years of debate and discussion, the scruffy field in the heart of Liberty Lake will finally be transformed into a destination point.
City Council approved the long-anticipated Town Square Park project by a vote of 5-1 during its May 20 meeting at a price tag of just under $730,000, well below the budget of $785,000 approved last year. Construction is expected to start in early July and be completed in around three months.
"The motion carries; we're building a park," said Mayor Steve Peterson after the council vote.
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Council Member Odin Langford, who expressed concern with the inclusion of an entry arch, priced at just under $24,000. Langford and fellow Council Member Keith Kopelson were outvoted by their colleagues 4-2 in an earlier vote to remove the expenditure from the proposal.
Another topic of debate included the addition of a parking area near the Greenstone building just to the west of the park site on Meadowwood Lane. City Administrator Katy Allen indicated on May 20 that Greenstone was willing to cover the costs of nearly $23,000 to pave 17 new spaces. Langford questioned why the council was learning of the agreement so late in the process.
Allen responded by saying the development company had been planning to add parking and the potential collaboration emerged during design discussions involving the park. She added that the parking will be considered public and not be limited to Greenstone employees or visitors.
"We've done our best to keep everyone informed, and I apologize if it seems like this is last minute," Allen said. "Greenstone was going to address it themselves, and the city added to the project to get the price."
Peterson said Greenstone's participation was based on the company "looking at this as a benefit to the community."
The Town Square Park concept was designated as one of three primary City Council priorities at its retreat last July. In September, Allen presented the governing board with what she called "an historical perspective" on the land and the variety of visions that have surrounded it. When the city's comprehensive plan was approved in 2003, the document prioritized the need for "a public presence in the central business district."
The city purchased the 6.4 acres along Meadowwood Lane for $1.75 million in 2005. Talk of transforming the property into the site of a community center and library complex faded quickly after a $9.8 million capital bond was resoundingly defeated at the ballot in April 2008.
In March 2012, the city hosted an open house to discuss design options for the property, with the anticipated cost hovering around $850,000. When a state grant fell through later that year, discussions quieted again.
During the design phase, Town Square Park has been compared to other centrally located greenspaces like McEuen Park in Coeur d'Alene and Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. Proponents of a civic site also pointed to the value of developing the acreage that serves as a backdrop to the Liberty Lake Farmers Market for nearly half of the year.
The city will fund the project primarily through $580,000 from the real estate excise tax as well as $81,000 from the Spokane Transit Authority as part of an agreement to add parking at the nearby Park-and-Ride. The balance of the cost will be covered through the Greenstone contribution and $25,000 from aquifer protection/stormwater funds.
"I think this will be a great asset to our community," Council Member Dan Dunne said.
Olander steps down
The Liberty Lake City Council added the task of appointing a new colleague to its ranks last month.
Lori Olander, who was appointed in June 2012 to replace Susan Schuler, announced early in the council meeting on May 6 that she would be resigning from the governing board, effective immediately. Citing the demands of her work schedule, Olander apologized for erratic attendance in the early part of the year.
"I take this very seriously and want to do a good job," Olander said. "I can't do that when I'm not showing up for meetings."
Olander added that she would be donating two months of her salary as a council member - $800 - to the city for the acquisition of a bike rack.
Olander earned just over 56 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Debbi Haskins in the general election for council position 1 last November. She has been an outspoken critic of the utility tax and lobbied for the idea of community sports fields. City Administrator Katy Allen acknowledged Olander's role in the successful campaign for the Liberty Lake Ball Fields - now under construction.
"We appreciate your dedication and service to the community," Mayor Peterson told Olander after her announcement. "You brought insights and debate to council."
The process of selecting Olander's replacement will follow the same protocol as previous appointments. Prospective appointees must be residents of Liberty Lake and apply with the city. A special meeting of the City Council has been scheduled for June 10 to interview applicants with the decision on Olander's successor expected that night. The deadline for applications is 4 p.m. June 2. Only one application had been received as of the May 20 meeting. Candidates can pick up applications at City Hall or download the document from the city's website.
Allen noted that an appointment in early June would allow the newest addition around the dais to attend the Association of Washington Cities annual conference, set for June 17-20, in Spokane.
City to take on sign code
The May 6 meeting also included a preliminary discussion of the city's sign code, a document that has drawn criticism from representatives of the business community for its conservative tone since it was implemented a dozen years ago. Allen said the city is looking at readdressing the code based on "concerns from businesses and citizens."
"Questions come up almost weekly about signage," Allen said. "We would like to simplify the sign code and address some of the new technology out there."
Allen said the city has had conversations with the local firm of Studio Cascade about consulting work that would include an inventory and assessment of the existing code as well as discussions with community stakeholders. The process would involve a public workshop and the city ultimately emerging with "a preferred direction."
"We've talked about establishing a form-based code instead of a prescriptive code," Allen said. "We want to make sure it works for the community and the businesses."
Mayor Pro Tem Cris Kaminskas agreed that taking steps to simplify the code made sense but warned against sacrificing aesthetic standards that have become a trademark of Liberty Lake.
"I don't want to end up looking like Sprague or Division," Kaminskas said.
In response to a concern from Council Member Shane Brickner about the idea of bringing on an outside consulting company to evaluate the code, Allen said Studio Cascade would "give us objectivity and smart sense that we don't have on staff."
"There are a lot of legal implications, current trends and smart policy surrounding signage," Allen said. "We want to make this code better. I see it as an expense that is an investment."
Allen will present an overview of Studio Cascade's proposed survey on signage at the June 3 meeting.
Solid waste update
Allen said at the May 20 meeting that the city will have a better idea on the future of solid waste disposal after May 27, when the request for proposals from private companies is due. Spokane County, which took over the regional sold waste program from the city of Spokane, had set May 31 as its deadline for area jurisdictions to provide an answer on a proposed interlocal agreement.
Liberty Lake has issued an RFP for price comparisons along with the city of Spokane Valley, Airway Heights, Deer Park and Millwood.
Allen said she would let the county know Liberty Lake would likely have an answer by the next council meeting on June 3.
"It's getting pretty complicated as we head down the stretch," Allen said. "I think the county is concerned that cities aren't signing on and cities are concerned because they don't have a price. We want to put our best foot forward and do what's best for our citizens."
In the Books, On the Docket
A look back and ahead at news from City Council
By Craig Howard
IN THE BOOKS (MAY)
The City Council voted May 20 to cancel its regular meeting originally scheduled for July 1.
Larry Larson, project engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation, reported that a repaving project on Interstate 90 from Barker Road to the state line would commence July 7. The work will take place at night and run through August.
City Engineer Andrew Staples introduced the six-year Transportation Improvement Program required of cities by state law. The city has set aside $19.3 million for capital projects from 2015 to 2020 and $2.9 million for preservation work.
Steve Skipworth, commissioner with the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District, encouraged citizens to be "good stewards of water" as the warm weather descends. LLSWD provides free consultation related to efficient water use, such as advice on the installation of timer-operated sprinkler systems.
Finance Director R.J. Stevenson told council that the city has gone from five voting precincts to eight. The decision was made by the Spokane County Elections Office as a way to better track ballot results.
Stevenson reported that sales tax for 2014 is up 10 percent from last year and added that revenue from the Trailhead at Liberty Lake golf course totaled $47,106 so far this spring, despite soggy weather.
In other news from Trailhead, repairs to the banquet facility and restrooms on the lower floor have been completed along with improvements to the driving range. Both projects came in under budget.
City Administrator Katy Allen announced that structural repairs to the roof at the Liberty Lake Library were completed at a cost of around $20,000. She commended Baker Construction for their professionalism and responsiveness in addressing the project.
In related news, council unanimously approved Ordinance 209C, establishing a Building and Equipment Contingency Fund to address issues such as the roof repairs. The program will draw from monies in the general fund and begin with a balance of $125,000.
A municipal open house was held at City Hall on May 15.
ON THE DOCKET (JUNE)
Council is expected to award contracts for parking lot lighting and a shade structure at Pavillion Park.
The Liberty Lake Police Department will present its annual report at the June 3 council meeting.
Council will hear Spokane Conservation District Project updates from Walt Edelen, water resources manager.
A closed record public hearing will take place on the Courtyard at River District preliminary plat at the June 3 meeting.
Council will address a resolution authorizing and adopting a six-year Transportation Improvement Program for 2014-2020 on June 3.
The Liberty Lake Municipal Library Board of Trustees will present the library's annual report at the June 17 council meeting.
A workshop on a pair of funding mechanisms in the River District - Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) will take place at the June 17 meeting. Finance Director R.J. Stevenson will conduct the discussion.
Police Chief Brian Asmus and City Attorney Sean Boutz will present an overview of marijuana regulation options at the June 17 meeting.