Five Mile Prairie is like a rural island in an urban sea.
Though just a short drive from Spokanes heavily commercial North Division Y, the prairielocated atop a large bluff that rises several hundred feet above surrounding city neighborhoodsis dotted with small farms and quaint, old barns that have helped it retain a pastoral feel.
The urban tide is rising, however, spilling beyond the pricey view homes that line the prairies rim and spreading deeply into its interior, with much of the farmland being sold and divided into lots for single-family residences.
Developers and real-estate agents estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 residential lots now are planned or proposed there, with more in the works. Development activity on the prairie has accelerated in recent years, they say, due to factors such as improved availability of infrastructure services, Growth Management Act pressures, and a dwindling supply of comparable lots elsewhere.
Theres quite a bit going on up there, says real estate agent Jack Couch. I think for the North Side its the hottest spot, and it may be the hottest spot in all of Spokane.
Couch is of Tomlinson Black Valley Inc., but lives on Five Mile Prairie and is the exclusive listing agent for and an investor in a couple of residential developments there. As one of the Spokane Association of Realtors top producers, he says he did a huge volume in new construction in 2003, with most sales occurring on Five Mile Prairie.
So named because of its distance from downtown, the prairie is located north of Francis Avenue between Country Homes Boulevard and Indian Trail Road. It offers panoramic views from most sides, but until recently has been slow to develop due to infrastructure, access, and drainage-related concerns.
Despite those challenges, it has attracted a number of the Spokane areas most active residential developers and brokers, such as Rod Plese, Jim Greenup, Jim Frank, and Mike Hume as the availability of other prime land within easy driving distance of shopping centers and downtown has dwindled. The projects they are developing or planning therewith names such as Five Mile Heights, New Horizon, Ridgeview Prairie, Jesses Bluff, Falcon Ridge, and Prairie Ridgeinclude homes targeted at people of most income levels, with prices ranging from $140,000 to $800,000.
Local-government statistics bolster developers estimates of the number of lots currently being planned on Five Mile Prairie. Less than half of the prairie lies within the city of Spokanes boundaries, yet the city says it last year approved or had approval pending on 835 lots there, counting preliminary and final plats. Those lots covered more than 250 acres.
Residential-development activity hasnt been as vigorous in the unincorporated portion of the prairie because that land is outside the citys urban growth area boundary.
Spokane County Assistant Planning Director John Pederson says, though, that there are a large number of vested lotsprobably in the hundredsthat have yet to be developed in that area of the prairie. Those are lots in plats, or site development plans, that were approved, under regulations allowing higher densities, before the urban growth area boundary was adopted.
Were seeing finalization of vested plats. Its fairly active, he says.
Meanwhile, he says, some developers are seeking to amend the countys comprehensive plan to include the unincorporated portion of the prairie within the urban growth area.
John Mercer, the citys planning director, says projects proposed on the portion of Five Mile Prairie thats within the city have been controversial due to infrastructure concerns, many of them transportation-related. Two two-lane roadsFive Mile Road and Cedar Roadhandle much of the traffic at the south end of the prairie, where the bulk of the homes have been built thus far. The city wants at some point, as funding becomes available, to improve access there.
However, Mercer says, Right now whats lacking isnt so much capacity (to handle vehicle traffic) as it is sidewalks and bike lanes. Its some of those additional safety issues that need to be addressed.
Couch says a lot of prospective home buyers are finding the prairie alluring because of its proximity to downtown, shopping centers, and health-care services.
Many people dont realize how close Five Mile Prairie is in terms of time distance, compared with other new-home development sites, he asserts.
A lack of developable lots on the South Hill is causing many professional people who work downtown to look at the prairie as an alternative, Couch claims. Strong new-home development activity along the nearby Indian Trail Road corridor also probably has helped spur interest in prairie housing, he says.
As evidence of the high demand, Couch says, all but about 15 lots have been sold in the 60-lot New Horizon subdivision off Lincoln Road in the southwest area of the prairie, where he is the listing agent. Most of those sales have occurred over the last two years, he says.
Home construction began only about a year ago in the 47-lot Ridgeview Prairie development east of New Horizon, but homes have been selling fast theredespite prices ranging from the mid-$200,000s to $700,000and that subdivision should be sold out by later this year, Couch says.
Both developments offer view lots, he says, adding, If I had 100 more view lots right now, I could sell them.
One of the newer projects getting under way at the south end of prairie is a gated, 19-lot planned-unit development called Garden Court that will adjoin Ridgeview Prairie, and Couch says he expects to see similarly strong interest.
New Horizon developer Jim Greenup, who recently affiliated as a real-estate agent with Windemere Real Estate/North Wall Inc. and is developing and marketing other Five Mile Prairie projects, says the Growth Management Act has been a catalyst for the activity occurring there.
Everything inside (of the designated urban growth area) with services is going to be developed, he says.
Greenup says one of the new developments he is marketing, but not developing, is the 24-lot Panorama Estates, off of Panorama Drive and Walnut Court near the southeast corner of the prairie. Home prices there, he says, likely will range from about $375,000 to $800,000.
Rod Plese, one of the developers of the big Five Mile Heights subdivision, where about 120 of 380 anticipated homes have been constructed, says, We had our best year in 2003.
Pleses company, Plese Realty, is the marketing agent for the development, where home prices range mostly between about $200,000 and $300,000. He says work on the subdivisions third addition is expected to begin this spring, and he expects total home sales there this year to be on par with last year.
Mike Hume, owner-broker of Tomlinson Black North Inc., is involved with partners in developing a number of projects on Five Mile Prairie, including 170-lot Jesses Bluff, the new 250-lot Falcon Ridge, and 29-lot Granger Terrace.
He says the activity level on the prairie is pretty high, partly because, There arent a lot of places to go on the North Side anymore for new stuff. Basically most of the prairie is platted.
Despite all the home-building activity to date, though, the prairie still is comprised mostly of farmland, and observers say they expect it to retain its bucolic character for years to come.
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