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Last hurdle awaits Rivers Edge

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | August 8, 2020 1:08 AM

Proposed land swap would consolidate two parcels into one

COEUR d’ALENE — Tuesday’s Coeur d’Alene Planning Commission meeting will see a familiar face in front of its commissioners.

Todd Whipple, president of Whipple Consulting Engineers and the lead engineer that has spearheaded the Rivers Edge project for more than a decade, will stand in support of the city’s special use permit application for a special use permit that essentially swaps usage rights for 134 units on 3.6 acres of city-controlled property along the Spokane River.

It’s a move consolidating two separate sites into one area, essentially serving as a land swap. It’s the last pre-construction step in a process that has bore out in front of planning commissions and city council meetings for more than 12 years.

“If you were a kindergartner when the (Atlas) mills came down, you would have graduated before anything would have happened to that property,” the Spokane-based developer mused to The Press.

Whipple said his faith in Rivers Edge has been tested over what has been a long process: Coming into Tuesday’s hearing, the Rivers Edge land has come before the city no less than six times, finally getting a pair of approvals in 2019, when Coeur d’Alene approved a subdivision and planned urban development. The engineer admitted that, in hindsight, the process would have been considerably easier if developers would have been quicker to the table.

“If we would have shown up the day after the mills went down we probably would have been a lot more successful in this process,” he said.

Rivers Edge has been critiqued from the onset, most recently by the citizens group We The People Of Coeur d’Alene, which in the past voiced its opposition in a May 2019 letter to both developers and the city. The group released a statement July 20 of this year harkening back to one of the original arguments against the development: what dissenters deem a lack of public access to the water.

“While the latest plan for this special riverfront site is greatly reduced from the original number of apartments, it still fails to meet the spirit of the city’s Annexation Agreement,” said Roger Smith of We The People Of Coeur d’Alene.

He said that agreement requires providing public “connection to the river” in the form of public trails, open space and open views toward the river from public rights of way.

Terry Godbout of WTP-CDA said both developers and the city have ignored an alternative plan the advocacy group submitted last year that would have, as the organization called it, maximized waterfront connectivity.

Whipple said, despite a protracted argument between the two sides, he fully understands the sentiment of public access.

“Why do people have such an interest in this project?” Whipple asked rhetorically. “Starts with ‘r,’ ends with ‘r,’ and has ‘i-v-e in the middle. That’s really it. We’re coming to the very end of waterfront property in Coeur d’Alene. And we do try to listen. Sometimes it doesn’t always come across that way, but we do listen.”

The swap, if denied, wouldn’t invalidate previous approvals, and the 134 units on the office site would likely move forward, but Whipple said he was looking hopeful toward the future and toward the thought of those 134 units being built in one consolidated area where, unfortunately for Rivers Edge developers, the railroad right-of-way runs.

“We’re hopeful we’ll get an approval from the city,” Whipple said. “We’re hopeful we’ll get to move forward with this.”

But the fight for water access along the Spokane River is a fight not all locals are ready to give up on.

“The city should exercise its clear authority to enforce the Annexation Agreement to ensure that the public’s access to the riverfront is provided in this development,” Smith said.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the community room in the library.