Bainbridge Island, WA: Commission: Land deals halfway there - Open space acquisition group nets almost 100 acres in 2003
December 27, 2003
After spending much of 2002 figuring out what to do with an $8 million
mandate, Bainbridge Island's Open Space Advisory Commission was busy
making land deals in 2003.
"The variety of properties we were able to purchase this last year has been great, even better than expected," said Andy Maron, commission chairman.
Praise for the commission's work so far has been effusive.
"I think, considering the timeline they had to work with and the quality of the property they presented to the council and due process, it was just an amazing amount of work by citizens," City Councilman Bill Knobloch said.
"They have established a legacy for the community that you will only see once."
Island voters authorized the $8 million open-space kitty in 2001. The fund gives the city money to buy up open space to spare it from development.
Opponents of the measure argued it would increase individual property taxes because buying property for open space would take it off the tax roles.
Despite the burden of paying off the $8 million bond and whatever extra property tax, the measure earned support from two-thirds of the island's voters.
By the end of the first year, the commission had figured out how to begin securing parcels, bringing to the council two waterfront properties for about $1.4 million.
In 2003, the properties were much more varied, even after starting off with a 1.4-acre Manitou Beach parcel with a salt marsh. That purchase was followed by three transactions in which the city acquired about 20 acres of farmland.
One of those was the 13-acre former M&E Christmas Tree farm donated by former resident Elizabeth Grossman.
After putting $500,000 toward the purchase of the Joel S. Pritchard Park and Bainbridge Island World War II Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial site, the commission had obtained just under 34 acres and had spent more than $2.5 million to get them.
For the next purchase, however, the commission spent in one transaction about half of what it had for the previous seven deals, but tripled the acreage.
The 64-acre Close property provided a trail between Gazzam Lake and the island's western shore. The trail takes walkers from one of the island's highest points down to the shore, passing by just about every piece of greenery available on the island, including some old-growth Douglas fir trees.
The commission finished the year with a couple of trails, one linking the Grand Forest with Battle Point Park and another providing public access to a Point White beach.
The two-year effort so far has rendered few disappointments, Maron said.
One parcel the commission has tried to secure, however, has been a tough sell.
In 1997, the Strawberry Plant office building on Eagle Harbor near Winslow burned down. The owner was denied his bid to rebuild the office complex because years ago it was zoned residential. Since then he's tried to sell it.
The $1.5 million asking price was too steep for the commission, but the group came up with an offer to developers to purchase part of the 4-acre property to set it aside as open space.
So far, according to Maron, developers don't seem to be too interested.
The commission still has more than $3 million to buy up more property.
"We're making good progress," Maron said. "We wondered if we could do all this in three years. It's possible that we could finish up this year if everything breaks right."
Maron said the commission is actively considering about 10 more properties.
Once it exhausts the $8 million, the commission will consider selling off pieces of some of the properties if it means it can secure more.
The bigger question the city will have to answer, said Maron, is how to maintain the properties. He said the park district is a logical choice to receive the properties, but the district is asking island residents for $5.7 million to cover two years of its operations, even without adding any new property.
Maron, who served nine years on the City Council, including six months as interim mayor, said that once the money is gone the city could consider transforming the commission into a management advisory commission.
For now, however, he and fellow commission members agree that they're actively involved in an effort that has turned out to be as fun as it has been effective.
Maron cites the egoless group as one reason the process has been such a treat. The fact that it is a group of activists that actually had money to back up its passion doesn't hurt.
Reach reporter Steven Gardner at (360) 779-3131 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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