Council approves go-ahead for LL Ball Fields
By Craig Howard
An idea that had been a diamond in the rough for years finally developed into a gem at Tuesday night's Liberty Lake City Council meeting.
Without much fanfare, the governing board approved a plan to construct a pair of baseball fields on a 20-acre parcel the city purchased from the Central Valley School District last year. The project, with an estimated cost of $800,000, will also include a parking lot with 79 spaces, a small picnic shelter and concrete walking paths.
As part of Resolution 13-170, council also had options to vote in support of an approach billed at $750,000 that would have resulted in grading the entire acreage, planting grass and installing an irrigation system. Before the vote, City Administrator Katy Allen pointed out that a decision to turn the land into a single expanse of turf would cost more money in the long run if the city ever opted to add sports facilities.
Council ultimately voted 5-1 in favor of the two-diamond concept with Keith Kopelson casting the only dissenting vote. Council Member Dan Dunne missed the June 4 meeting with an excused absence.
"I'm elated," said Jennifer Tomlinson, a longtime advocate for the ball fields who has been serving on a committee formed by the city to explore build-out options. "The kids will finally have a place to play in Liberty Lake."
Council has already set aside $500,000 for the project in the 2013 budget. On Tuesday, Finance Director R.J. Stevenson provided an update on procuring the balance of the $800,000 that would be required for construction. Drawing from unappropriated revenue generated through the city's real estate excise tax, the city could come up with another $250,000 then secure the remaining $50,000 through a surplus in REET revenue this year. Stevenson said the city is already $20,000 ahead of the pace set from the tax over the past three years.
Responding to a question from Council Member Josh Beckett regarding the maintenance of the fields in the long run, Allen said the city would likely need to purchase more equipment – specifically a mower – to keep the diamonds manicured. Allen added that there was also the possibility of leasing the parking lot to CVSD to raise money for operational and maintenance costs.
Once Ordinance 13-170 was in the books, council proceeded to approve an agreement with Welch Comer Engineers for the design phase of the work, estimated at $44,000. Allen said "if everything goes really well," wheels on the project could begin spinning by early August.
In news related to another long-discussed capital project, the governing board aired out a number of grievances with Mayor Steve Peterson on Tuesday evening.
The debate centered around a sign that Peterson had placed near the site of the Liberty Lake Farmers Market prior to the regular convening of the market last Saturday. The placard was preserved from a failed bond campaign during Peterson's first go-around in office that would have raised funds to develop a civic hub on a 6.4-acre plot owned by the city across from Meadowwood Lane.
After the proposal for a $9.8 million bond to build a library and community center was soundly defeated at the ballot in April of 2008, the city readjusted its vision for the land. The latest plan includes a layered approach with the first phase consisting of an expanded parking lot and landscaping adjacent to the Spokane Transit Authority bus transfer station.
The city has applied for a state grant to help with the financing of phase one, although on Tuesday Allen said the bid was not in the most ideal position – 44th on a list of 60 – to be awarded the requested funds.
Peterson said he placed the sign on the grounds "because people keep asking what the city is doing with this piece of property."
"This starts a dialogue," Peterson said. "This lets people know what the possibilities are."
Holli Parker, who chairs the board overseeing the Liberty Lake Farmers Market, commended the city in the citizens comments portion of Tuesday's meeting, saying the sign was a welcome addition to the site and had shed light on future plans for the land.
Council Member Shane Brickner said the sign was "a misrepresentation" of what actually might take place on the property, considering the tenuous nature of the state grant and other factors.
"For this sign to come up like it did, I know a lot of City Council members were surprised by it," Brickner said. "I don't believe it's representative of the City Council's thought process."
Council Member Josh Beckett was more direct, saying the sign "was misleading to the public" and should be removed. Beckett had, in fact, done just that on Friday night, taking down the sign after he spotted it only to have Peterson put it back on Saturday morning.
"The mayor should have had conversations with the council before this happened," Beckett said. "The policies and funding for projects like these are set by council, not the mayor."
After Council Member Cris Kaminskas asked if alterations could be made to the sign to reflect council's concerns, Peterson acknowledged that he should have discussed the idea with the governing board.
"There was a lack of communication there; I will take responsibility for that," he said.
It was eventually agreed that the sign would remain, but be covered until a consensus could be reached about its content. Brickner was appointed to represent his council colleagues in conversations with city staff about the changes.
Council Member Lori Olander suggested that the revised sign include a callout for feedback from the community on potential uses of the land.
"Isn't the idea to get public input on what residents want to see there?" Olander asked.
In a related issue, Beckett called the mayor out on the use of a city booth at the farmers market that he said was being used by Peterson's brother-in-law to sell arts and crafts. Peterson countered by saying the booth was intended as an incubator space to promote local business.
"There was never a discussion about this being used as an incubator space," Beckett said. "We might need a timeout on the farmers market to get a game plan together."
Both Peterson and Allen acknowledged that the booth has not been publicly advertised as a site for local entrepreneurs. Allen recommended that the space be utilized from this point on for nonprofit community causes and by the city for informational purposes.