Saturday, April 01, 2023

A Post Falls lament

Staff Writer | May 11, 2021 1:08 AM

POST FALLS — Longtime residents can attest to the dramatic change in their beloved city, particularly those with three-story apartments built next door.

Ron Martin and Dale Johnson are two of those individuals who bought their homes when the neighborhood was half the size and surrounded by industrial properties.

When Martin bought his Railroad Avenue home 35 years ago, there was a sawmill, an operational Idaho Veneer Company site down the street, and a view of the mountains and nearby railroad tracks.

Today offers an entirely different perspective — construction of six three-story apartment buildings across the street.

"If I wanted to live in a big city, I'd be living in a big city, you know?" Martin said. "I'm not going to be able to see that mountain unless I walk over there and look because they're going to build three stories right in front of me."

What was a sawmill is now condos. The Idaho Veneer Company where Martin started his career is closed.

Now 58 years old, Martin has watched the city he grew up in explode from 1,983 people in 1960 to 37,851 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

On Fourth Avenue, just a few blocks from the Martins, Dale Johnson's one-story home is now eclipsed by another three-story apartment building featuring balconies that directly overlook his home.

"He'll never see the morning sun again because of that three-story building," Martin said. "They're doing the same thing here."

Initially, Johnson was happy to have new neighbors, as he suspected the previous ones of drug abuse and theft. He's owned his property for about 26 years, renting it out to family before moving into the home with his wife several years ago.

"I liked where the house was when I bought it because there was nothing around," Johnson said. "I could walk up to Eagles and could walk home without stopping. Now it has all changed."

When the property next door sold and a developer came in, Johnson said there was a disagreement about the property line. An avid hot rod driver, Johnson had built a garage to store his vehicles, which he said extended into the neighboring property by 6 inches.

After talking with the new owners, Johnson said he cut the garage back, only for the apartment to jump a foot over the property line.

"My wife and I should have bought it, but the city said I had to build at least a two-story building. I didn't want two stories in there. I just wanted a little home," he said.

Similarly, Martin said he had tried to buy the property across the street years ago with the intent of relocating his small business. However, he said the city told him the parcel was zoned city services and intended for projects like a Department of Motor Vehicles Office.

"It had to be something to serve the citizens. I'm considered light industrial, so we never did purchase it," Martin said. "Now the city passes it as multifamily or whatever the zone is now."

A stone's throw from Post Falls City Hall, Martin and Johnson recognize that there will be increased interest for property in the city's developing downtown core. Still, they had anticipated the growth to be retail shops and businesses like when former Mayor Clay Larkin brought Buck Knives to the city in 2005.

"(Larkin) was bringing in big industry, bigger jobs, that kind of stuff people want to move here," Martin said. "Whereas this city government is just bringing in residents to tow. They're not going to work here because there are no businesses, so they'll go to Spokane or Coeur d'Alene."

Even if the residents found work, Johnson and Martin pointed out it could take more than one job to afford to live in the area.

Reflecting on the Post Falls of 50 years ago, Martin joked about the past stop sign that controlled Spokane Street and Seltice Way traffic and the industrial jobs that employed residents.

"If you needed a job, all you had to do was go down to the mill and say I need work. They'd tell you to come back tomorrow, and you had a job," Martin said with a laugh. "That job would support a family, a house. Now you have to have multiple jobs, especially when homes are over $300,000."

Martin said he isn't opposed to the growth but wants city officials to be doing it "the right way," with more businesses and not more housing. Despite loving their home of 35 years, Martin said he and his wife, Ronda, will likely leave the area soon.

"Everything's changing around here. It'll never be the same as it was back in the day," Martin said. "Nobody is expecting that, but we're losing that feel of Post Falls."

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