Support the City of Spokane's Efforts to Save a Farm from Development

Author(s): 
Chrys Ostrander

Updated January 30, 2021

This wonderful video was produced by Friends of the Bluff, a community group of volunteers formed in 2010 to be stewards of the High Drive Bluff Park in Spokane, WA.

'Dream Farm' painting by LR MontgomeryWhat follows is an open sign-on letter from the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group to Spokane decision makers supporting the City's efforts to find a way to save a 48-acre farm in Vinegar Flats from being forever lost to a 94-unit housing development. You can sign onto this letter at the Working Group's website: Sign On Here.

Ever since October when representatives from several conservation organizations, the landowners, City of Spokane officials and a Spokane County Commissioner gathered at the Vinegar Flats farm to discuss its future, a committee has been meeting to assist the City in developing a plan for the City to purchase the land, thus preventing its sale to a developer and preserving it for conservation and agriculture. This committee is called the Latah Environmental, Agricultural and Fisheries Heritage Project (LEAF). On December 3rd, the Spokane City Council voted to include the LEAF Heritage Project in its Tier 1 Legislative Priorities for 2021, demonstrating the City's commitment to the vision of expanding the public trails in the area, restoring the banks of Hangman Creek to better support returning fish populations and putting the farmland back to work growing organic fruits and vegetables for Spokane residents of all income levels.

Spokane area decision makers need to hear from you. They need to hear that you support this precedent-setting initiative. Please sign your name to the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group letter!

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To:

Breean Beggs, City Council President, City of Spokane

Lori Kinnear, Spokane City Council Member, District 2

Betsy Wilkerson, Spokane City Council Member, District 2

Brian McClatchey, Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane

Erik Poulsen, Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane

Garret Jones, Director, Spokane Parks and Recreation, City of Spokane

Kara Odegard, Manager of Sustainability Initiatives, City of Spokane

Mary Kuney, Spokane County Commissioner

Doug Chase, Director, Spokane County Parks, Recreation & Golf

Paul Knowles, Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf


Dear Spokane Decision-makers,

We live in Spokane because, as the promotional slogan goes, it's "near nature, near perfect." One of the factors that makes this slogan ring true is the fact that Spokane County is still blessed with over half a million acres of productive farmland. The sad truth is, however, that current policies are failing to preserve Spokane's food security and quality of life by not effectively protecting our precious farmland from being lost forever to development.

A community is only ever given so much farmland. Once it's built over, it's gone forever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in our food system that were already known prior to the outbreak of the virus. It has now become clear that we as a community must read the writing on the wall and act to strengthen our local and regional food system. One way to do this is to make sure we do not needlessly lose prime agricultural farmland in our region to development pressures. Another way is to build up our capacity to produce food locally for local consumption while ensuing that folks of all income levels can access it. This can take the form of promoting and supporting more local food production including more regional farms, community gardens and even community farms.

A recent report by the American Farmland Trust, a national farmland preservation organization, called Farms Under Threat, concluded that Washington State has five times as many farmers over the age of 65 than farmers under the age of 35. We must help younger folks who want to farm (and there are many) to learn the craft and take up the task of producing food in our region. An excellent way to do this would be by creating an urban agriculture education center at the Vinegar Flats Farm. 

Recent conditional approval by the Planning Department of a permit for constructing ninety-four homes on 48-acres of zoned agricultural land in Vinegar Flats (a.k.a the Pilcher farm) is the latest example of the failure of local government to live up to its own commitments, specified in the Comprehensive Plan to "preserve, protect and restore unique and non-renewable resources or features such as wetlands, wildlife habitat, agricultural areas, and special natural areas [and] protect Comprehensive Plan-designated agricultural lands for continued agriculture use."

We oppose the plan to destroy these 48 acres of farmland by allowing the completion of the planned development known as the "Deep Pine Overlook." All of the land where the houses would be built is classified by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service as "prime farmland." It’s also an area prone to flooding, even catastrophic flooding, despite assurances from the developers that down-play the flood risk. The risk of catastrophic flooding brings into question whether it’s an appropriate place for a dense housing development or better preserved as open space.

Neighbors in the area are very concerned that a new housing development of this size would worsen traffic flows on a stretch of State Route 195 already notoriously hazardous.

Concern is also great about increased pollution of Hangman Creek that runs adjacent to the property. It's already one of the state's most polluted waterways.

It is important to note that this parcel has for years been near the top of the list of Spokane County Conservation Futures potential land acquisitions.

We are heartened and encouraged by the fact that recently twenty people representing city and county government and independent conservation organizations spent two hours touring the property and discussed potential strategies for how to piece together a funding plan for the public purchase of this property. Furthermore, we support this parcel becoming city-owned farmland to be managed by a partnership of non-profit and educational institutions for the purposes of growing food for local consumption, using regenerative methods and permaculture principles and establishing a community learning center for teaching small-scale farming skills, urban agriculture and other agrarian arts.

Thank you for your continuing attention to this vital initiative,

Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group
Spokane, WA

You can sign onto this letter at the Working Group's website: Sign On Here

Edition: 
December, 2020