Pilcher Property in Vinegar Flats Subject of City-sponsored Tour

Author(s): 
Chrys Ostrander

Meeting at Vinegar Flats Farm gathers city officials, conservationists to discuss public purchase.

The outdoor meeting at the property was organized by Kirsten Angell of the Sustainability Action Subcommittee of the Spokane City Council. It began at 2pm Wednesday and lasted two hours. Participants toured the farm and several made brief presentations describing their interests in conserving the land through some kind of public purchase.

Present were:
Amanda Parrish, The Lands Council
Brent Davies, Ecotrust
Brian McClatchey, Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane
Chrys Ostrander, Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group and the Spokane Food Policy Council
Dave Schaub, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy
Erik Poulsen, Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane
Garrett Jones, Director of Parks Department
Giacobbe Byrd, Legislative Assistant to City Council Member Lori Kinnear
Kai Huschke, Latah Hangman Neighborhood Council Chair
Kara Odegard, Manager of Sustainability Initiatives, City of Spokane
Kirsten Angell, Sustainability Action Subcommittee, Spokane City Council
Lisa Gardner, Director of Communications, Spokane City Council
Mary Kuney, Spokane County Commissioner
Nancy Schaub, Environmental Acitivist
Nick Hamad, Landscape Architect, Parks Department, City of Spokane
Pat Keegan, Friends of the Bluff
Paul Knowles, Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf
Taudd Hume, JRP Land LLC (landowner)
Trevor Finchamp, Friends of the Bluff
Vicki Carter, Vets on the Farm and Director of Soil Conservation District

Folks gather on a warm Wednesday afternoon soon after a snow

The 48-acre Vinegar Flats Farm is owned by JRP Land LLC. John Pilcher and Taudd Hume are principles of the corporation. Mr. Hume hosted the meeting. In May, 2019, the City of Spokane granted JRP Land LLC a conditional permit for a 96-unit high-density gated housing development to be built right where the all best agricultural soils are. 

The farm is at the south end of an area of south Spokane nestled between State Route 195 and the steep bluffs of High Drive Bluff Park at the foot of which flows Hangman Creek. The farm represents about 30% of the City of Spokane's only "Residential Agricultural" zone where commercial farming is allowed, as well as private homes. There are farms and greenhouse operations in Vinegar Flats, but much of the good agricultural soil has already been built over by homes and lost for farming forever. 

Participants head to the north end of the property

The owners want to sell the land, either to a developer who would build the gated community or to the City of Spokane. They just want to make sure that the price they get, even if the city buys it and doesn't develop it, is the price a developer would have paid. About $3 million dollars.

Several attempts have been made over the years to put the land into conservation but did not come to fruition. This time, the jolt that was felt by conservationists and city officials alike when the conditional permit was approved appears to have sparked renewed interest, if not passion, to try and save the parcel from development. Since spring, despite the pandemic, it has been a steady string of behind the scenes discussions, some letter-writing, a few newspaper and radio news stories culminating in Wednesday's meeting of the twenty people who came to learn, to listen and to dream. The vision that was shared of this Vinegar Flats Farm becoming public land, lined with hiking trails with a restored riparian zone along the creek and a working organic farm producing fresh foods for Spokane residents seemed close enough to touch. Then there's the $3 million dollars. Those didn't seem as close.

View of the Vinegar Flats farmland looking south

The meeting ended with an intent to regroup soon on a Zoom call in order to try and begin to cobble together the multiple funding sources it would require to come up with enough money to finance the purchase and head off the development. It seems, standing on the land, so close to the soil and the flowing water, dwarfed by the bluffs towering nearby, that a resolve had taken form among the group.

But the clock is ticking.

Pat Keegan of Friends of the Bluff describes their hopes for adding hiking and biking trails through the property.
Kai Huschke, Latah Hangman Neighborhood Council Chair, describes the many concerns folks in his neighborhood have expressed about the proposed high density development.
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Amanda Parrish of The Lands Council describes the hard work and dedication it takes to plant trees and restore vegetatation along the banks of Hangman Creek.


Hear a 12-minute speech by Chrys Ostrander of the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group and the Spokane Food Policy Council that he gave at the meeting in which he makes the case for preserving the Vinegar Flats Farm as a working farm and urban agriculture education center.

Listen

Edition: 
October, 2020