‘Everybody wins’

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Thursday, July 7, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

LAKE ROESIGER — Dave Barnett once appeared steadfast in his plans to build a mini-city with thousands of homes near this tranquil, rural lake.

Now that the state and Snohomish County have bought Barnett’s timber holdings for a future public park, the would-be developer sounds relieved, grateful, even happy.

The land sale closed Tuesday.

“It’s especially exciting because it’s a deal where everybody wins,” Barnett said. “The county can have magnificent parks, the state can have forestland, the bank gets paid, and I can go on vacation.”

Barnett’s plans for a 6,000-home master-planned community called Falcon Ridge would have been his first homebuilding venture. The ambitious project stirred up a huge controversy, as the nearby community feared the loss of the area’s rural character. Environmentalists challenged the necessity of using up so much forestland for development. Some county leaders fretted about the cost of building roads and schools in the area about 12 miles east of Lake Stevens.

Instead, nearly 2,900 acres of timberland are destined to become a recreation area.

Snohomish County plans to build parking areas, camping sites and other amenities on 240 acres where it now owns land and holds easements. The state Department of Natural Resources would manage most of the property as timberland. Still, the public could usually visit for hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Every few decades, the state would harvest timber to benefit a trust that pays for school construction.

The county paid $1.4 million from its Conservation Futures Fund, the state about $6.6 million.

Barnett, who lives in Shoreline, said he bought the land near Lake Roesiger more than a decade ago intending to log it. He said he now wishes he would have heeded his father’s advice to keep it in timber production. Instead, he grew tempted to take advantage of the spectacular views for home sites, leading to the Falcon Ridge mini-city concept.

“If I would have listened to my dad all along, I would have just kept growing trees and saved the money I spent trying to develop it,” he said. “I’d rather spend my time doing what I want to do than just chasing an extra dollar.”

What Barnett wants to focus on now, he said, is building a casino for the Cowlitz Tribe, where he’s a member and his late father was the tribe’s former leader. The casino and shopping complex would be just north of Vancouver, Wash., and about 16 miles from Portland.

He described it as similar to the Tulalip Tribes’ casino, resort and shopping area along I-5 across from Marysville, only larger. He’s brought in the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut to help with the plan.

With the Lake Roesiger project behind him, Barnett extended gratitude to Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers, whom he once threatened to run out of office for opposing his plans.

“I thank (County Executive) Aaron Reardon and (Councilman) Dave Somers and the state, of course, for helping to put this together,” Barnett said.

A woman from the Lake Roesiger community who fought Barnett’s development plans for more than a half-dozen years, and his logging operations before that, is glad he’s leaving the neighborhood. She wishes it would have happened sooner.

“He was a tyrant up here. He had people scared to death,” Cindy Howard said. “When he wanted somebody on his side, he’d throw money at them. He professed to be an environmentalist, yet he wanted to cover (his land) with concrete.”

Howard and her neighbors are ecstatic about the future park. Years ago, they thought victory would mean limiting the size of the development — a recreation spot hardly seemed realistic.

“We always intended to compromise,” she said. “This is a coup. This is fantastic.”

After the land sale closed, Reardon issued a statement: “The cooperative efforts leading to this land purchase will afford Snohomish County residents, as well as those living throughout the state, new recreational opportunities.”

In 2009, though, Reardon supported keeping the zoning that would have allowed Barnett to build his project, even as a majority of the County Council sought to kill the idea. That year, the council voted to remove the zoning for rural mini-cities, also called fully contained communities. Reardon vetoed their decision, but the council overturned his veto, scuttling Barnett’s plans by severely restricting what he could build on his land.

Reardon’s actions were consistent, his spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said in an email.

“The executive has fully supported the joint purchase of this property,” he said.

Kristin Kelly from the Pilchuck Audubon Society and the growth-management group Futurewise was an early and leading opponent of the Falcon Ridge development. She found Barnett’s apparent change in attitude surprising.

“He wasn’t about to negotiate on anything other than putting that city out there,” she said. “He fought it to the bitter end.”

With the land now in public hands, she said, everybody seems to want to take credit.

“It’s hard to even comment when you have worked as hard as I have on a situation and had so many forces against you,” Kelly said.

“It will help future generations have better air and water quality, and that’s the real win, not who wants to take credit for it.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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