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Dan Hansen: Expanding public access to river doesn’t stink – The Spokesman-Review

To my neighbors: Now I understand why you cross to the far side of the street when you see me coming. Now I know why you tell your little ghosts and pirates, “not that one, sweetie,” as you hurry past my house on Halloween. I was wrong to be offended when you told your daughter she couldn’t date my son.

The scales fell from my eyes at the Feb. 17 meeting of the Millwood City Council. That’s when I came to understand that people like me are menacing to those whose homes are ever cool.

“When the temperature reaches 85 degrees in Spokane on any given day, a number of people who don’t have air conditioning, they’re looking for somewhere to cool off,” one of my fellow citizens said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Think about the parts of town where the majority of houses and apartments don’t have air conditioning,” he continued. “Now think about the income level of those areas. Think about the crime rate, think about the unemployment rate, and now realize these are the people you’re inviting into our backyard.”

The end result, he said, would be a town that can’t keep or attract businesses. I suppose that’d be due as much to body odor as to crime.

It is only because Millwood updated two land-use documents – the comprehensive and shoreline management plans – that I learned about the inverse relationship between air conditioning and economic collapse. During that public process, residents raised concerns over the lack of community access to the Spokane River. So, when the opportunity presented itself, the City Council recently voted to purchase two adjoining riverfront lots – the last two likely to come available unless (God forbid) the mill someday closes.

Now, the planning commission will hold hearings and report back to the council with suggestions for what to do with that half acre. One possibility I’ve heard mentioned is a picnic table overlooking the river, and a mechanism for launching canoes and kayaks on the steep bank. There is no beach, so options are somewhat limited.

This is so early in the process that few Millwood residents who live off-river have even heard about the purchase. But word spread quickly among riverfront property owners, including a sizable group who last year pooled their money, got the necessary permits and built their own private boat launch, as is their right as taxpaying, air-conditioned Americans.

Since there is no public launch, only those who invested in the private launch have the means to put a powerboat on the river. Now they’re unhappy with the idea that the general public could have a place in Millwood to launch a canoe or kayak. (The private launch is in the city of Spokane Valley; the park land is inside Millwood. Both properties front South River Way, and are separated by just one parcel.)

The homeowners raise legitimate concerns about crime. In my part of town – three blocks from the river, one block from the railroad tracks – we lock up our bikes, even when they’re stored in garages. One riverfront homeowner at the meeting told about a burglar who arrived in a stolen canoe and left in a stolen car filled with the homeowner’s possessions.

While I sympathize with her sense of vulnerability and violation, I question whether half an acre of parkland designed mostly to attract Millwood residents would exacerbate the situation.

Hearing my neighbors’ concerns, I was reminded of the opposition faced by the late Denny Ashlock and other early advocates of the Centennial Trail. “They called us communists,” Denny told me after the trail was gaining popularity. “They said it would drive down property values, cause crime and pollute the river.”

Today, there’s little doubt the Centennial Trail is an asset that has sparked a new appreciation for our urban river. Come spring, you’ll find a parade of walkers, runners and bikers crossing the Ashlock Bridge, which spans the river a couple of miles upstream from Millwood. Annual river cleanups draw hundreds of volunteers.

Different people will have different expectations for what this new patch of land should be. Personally, I hope the final plan does include a canoe launch. There’s nothing quite so special as exploring the river in our own neighborhood on a hot summer night when there’s a cool breeze over the water.

And you know I’ll be out there. It’s just too damn hot to stay home.

Dan Hansen is a former member of the Millwood Planning Commission and a former reporter and editor for The Spokesman-Review.

Published Feb. 26, 2017, midnight  in: air conditioning, canoes, crime, kayaks, millwood, public launch, Spokane River

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