City officials are working out a deal to spend $500,000 in county grant money to buy 20 acres along the Snohomish River next to downtown. The offer has raised questions, because the state previously valued the land at about $150,000. That was before the city did another appraisal this year that put the property's worth at $500,000 — the same amount sellers want for it.
The city plans to buy the land with grant money it received last year from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures program. It is funded with property taxes.
Snohomish officials want it for a new boat launch and envision connecting the site with several area trails.
City Manager Larry Bauman said Snohomish has been negotiating the terms of the sale with the landowners, Ed and Edith Stocker, for the past couple of months.
“We expected it to be done by now,” he said.
As is common with land purchases, Bauman said, he couldn't release the appraisal or the agreement until the sale closes. He declined to discuss the deal's details.
Bauman said the state's earlier appraisal did not account for the development potential of the Stocker property. Most of the land is in the floodplain, but the city is banking on a sliver of it that could be developed.
City Project Manager Ann Stanton said Snohomish considered several land uses in its appraisal while the state's document focused solely on its agricultural value.
The county and the state previously made offers on the Stocker's land that were close to the earlier appraised value of $150,000, she said. The family rejected those offers.
Now, Stanton said, the Stockers are reviewing a $500,000 deal that allows them to continue to move livestock across the property after they sell it. The agreement also calls for the youth soccer club to keep using the site for parking during events, she said.
“It seems like a sweetheart deal for Stocker and a bad deal for the taxpayers,” said Morgan Davis, a regular at City Council meetings. “I just hate to see money squandered when there are better uses for it.”
The city has long had its sights set on the property.
Stanton said it has been part of the city's plans for some 20 years. She believes $500,000 is a fair price.
“The value to the public having this protected for people to use is incalculable,” she said. “It would greatly enhance our parks.”
Snohomish County Parks Director Tom Teigen agrees. He said the purchase offers an opportunity for the city, the county and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to work together on a public space while sharing the costs. The property's close proximity to downtown and the river make it more valuable, he said.
“We consider this a great buy,” Teigen said. “We're very excited about this project.”
The county's Centennial Trail, the city's Riverfront Trail and others could be extended to the site. Teigen said the Centennial Trail saw 800,000 visitors from last summer to this summer. He said it draws people to the cities and businesses along the route.
The city also wants to build a new boat launch to replace the one at Cady Park. Stanton said the city has long wanted to move it because the old one has steep sides and fast-moving water. Fish and Wildlife has budgeted $400,000 for the new boat launch.
The city plans to get rid of invasive plants and restore the forested edge to about 1,700 feet of riverbank, Stanton said. Snohomish is also planning community gardens at the site.
“We see some real environmental benefits,” she said.
Snohomish officials expect to close the deal this year. Once the sale is final, the state can begin work on the boat launch, which could take up to a year to complete.
“Public access on the river is worth half a million dollars,” Teigen said. Preserving that opportunity and getting it into public ownership is the first step.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AmyNileReports
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