In Italian, “bella lago” is defined as “beautiful lake,” but for a group of citizens in Spokane County’s easternmost city, the words denote a scenario that has been anything but serene.
Meanwhile, a financial partner in Bella Lago LLC named George White Sr. says he is simply trying to tell his story and adhere to a decision made by a Spokane hearing examiner in 2009.
The tale begins in the summer of 2001, shortly before Liberty Lake incorporated as a city. Spokane County approves a plat for a 47-home development called Bella Lago, a neighborhood “set among a scenic backdrop of rolling timberlands and two golf courses,” according to the Bella Lago Web site, www.bellalagollc.com.
Over time, a scaled-back version of the development emerged – this time with 15 homes. White said the transformation had to do with requirements by that city “that the development be done within a certain period of time.”
“We couldn’t finish it in that time,” he said. “The city had taken over the jurisdiction and they didn’t extend the plat.”
In the meantime, Liberty Lake residents like Shanna Hale were expressing concern about delays to an upgrade of Valleyway Road, a street below the Bella Lago development between Meadowwood Golf Course and the Liberty Lake County Golf Course. Citizens referred to a requirement that called for the developer to implement improvements on Valleyway before any houses went up.
For his part, White described the original renovation of Valleyway “as a road improvement scenario based on 47 homes.”
Doug Smith, Liberty Lake community development director, said Bella Lago LLC was under obligation to make certain improvements to Valleyway “prior to the final project being wrapped up.” After the project was reduced, Smith said a request was made by the developer “for a change of conditions because of the reduced impact on Valleyway.”
Despite the shift, Smith maintained the city ‘s position that “the developer wouldn’t be off the hook.”
In 2009, Greg Smith a hearing examiner with the city of Spokane who is contracted by Liberty Lake confirmed that Bella Lago LLC would be required to make improvements “if and when” the city moved ahead with its own upgrade.
Hale said she and other residents simply wanted the developers “to follow through on a commitment they made years ago.” A narrow road with a 25 mph posted speed limit, Valleway is a popular route with walkers, joggers and cyclists, particularly in the warm weather months. The street also provides access to the Liberty Lake County Park. Hale said visibility is especially a problem around an obstructed corner and vehicles often speed along the road, making it risky for pedestrians.
“We’re just thankful that nothing has happened yet,” Hale said.
In January 2010, the city of Liberty Lake and Bella Lago LLC agreed to a compromise that moved a proposed pedestrian pathway to the west side of Valleyway and connected it to the city’s scheduled street upgrade. In response, over 60 residents expressed their disapproval to city leaders regarding the modification and continued delays.
“It’s never been made clear why the frontage improvements (to Valleyway) weren’t made earlier,” said Mary Munger, one of several citizens to testify before City Council.
Following the resident uproar, the city agreed last February to look into engineering costs and options like establishing a local improvement district that would include the city, Spokane County and neighbors contributing to a street improvement fund. Smith indicated that the city also had a letter of credit from the developer.
Last September, the city announced it had submitted an application with the Spokane Regional Transportation Council for a grant to cover improvements to a little under a half-mile of Valleyway and Lakeside roads between Lindblad and Timberfield lanes. The city received word from SRTC last October that it had been awarded the $350,000 grant.
Smith said City Engineer Andrew Staples is currently working on design plans for a 6-foot wide walkway along Valleyway that would be separated from the street by a curb. A functional bench that Smith described as “a public art feature” would also be part of the project.
Smith added that bids for the work would probably go out by late spring with construction anticipated to wrap up in late summer. He emphasized that Bella Lago LLC “would be responsible for a proportionate share” of the improvements and applauded White for his involvement in a series of workshops last year that discussed the project.
“I think this is a solution that is very fair for the developer and good for the community,” Smith said.
Although happy that progress is finally being made, residents like Munger are still wondering what happened to certain elements of the original design – such as a 10-foot wide pathway.
“I don’t think this addresses the entire issue,” she said. “It’s about having the road widened so there will be safe passageway for pedestrians, bikers and vehicles.”