By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — Seven years ago, a patch of woods north of Snohomish County’s Meadowdale Beach Park became the subject of protracted legal battle between a developer and neighbors.
The developer wanted to build about 70 houses on the 13-acre property known as Seabrook Heights. Neighbors said building that many homes on the steep, wet terrain would have put their land, and the county park, at further risk of landslides and other impacts from runoff.
The county hearing examiner and the County Council in 2009 agreed with the neighbors, forcing developer West View Properties to submit new plans. That happened the following year, but the stagnant housing market sidelined the project.
With the housing market on the rebound, Lynnwood is making a serious bid to buy the land for conservation. To pay for it, the city has asked Snohomish County for $7 million in grants. An advisory board is set to consider the request, and many others vying for the same dollars, next week.
In a letter to the city, West View’s David Beck said he’d entertain an offer to sell. Plans to build the houses, however, are also moving forward.
“If he’s willing to negotiate for a price that everybody thinks is fair, it gets preserved as really a nice extension to Meadowdale Beach Park,” said David Allais, president of a neighbors group opposed to the housing development.
If the development does happen, “The runoff and the potential effects of the runoff are really the scary part,” Allais said.
Lynnwood’s proposal is one of 29 projects competing for $25 million in Conservation Futures grants. Together, the requests total about $34 million.
The county’s Conservation Futures Advisory Board is scheduled to listen to 15-minute presentations for each proposal on Aug. 20, 21 and 23, with a decision expected the final day. Lynnwood’s Seabrook presentation is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. Aug. 20, in Willis Tucker Community Park’s Vista Conference Room.
After the vote, County Executive John Lovick’s office will send the recommendations to the County Council for a final vote, which could come by the end of September.
The upcoming Conservation Futures grants are the result of a $120 million bond sale in April that’s also helping to pay for a new courthouse ($75 million), road projects ($5.2 million) and park infrastructure ($3.6 million), among other work.
The county is not raising taxes to pay back the Conservation Futures bonds. It plans to repay them through future property taxes already collected for conservation.
County Councilman Dave Gossett proposed the move earlier this year, to take advantage of low interest rates before land prices rise further and natural areas are lost to development.
The county made a similar move in 1996. With $24 million worth of bonds, the county was able to buy land in Robe Canyon, parcels along the Centennial Trail, the Narbeck wetlands near Paine Field and in the Meadowdale Beach area.
“I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to move forward on this,” Gossett said, “that we’re going to be able to appropriate the funds and to start buying the property.”
The proposals include farmland, woods and wetlands throughout the county, from Woodway to Darrington and Maltby to Stanwood. Most of the applications were made by cities, though nearly a third come from the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Conservation Futures money is collected from property taxes and can, by law, only be used to preserve land.
The Seabrook Heights property is on unincorporated land north of Lund’s Gulch in Lynnwood’s future annexation area.
It’s contiguous to more than 77 acres of protected land Lynnwood and the Brackett’s Landing Foundation have acquired since 1996 using Conservation Futures.
The terrain at Seabrook is similar to the Meadowdale Beach Park, with partial Puget Sound views. Second-growth Douglas fir, western red cedar, hemlock and alder cover the area. There are lots of hills and cliffs, with some grades approaching 78 percent.
A county hearing examiner in 2009 denied the developer’s original application, largely to ensure proper drainage in a landslide-hazard area. The developer submitted another application the following year with additional water-retention systems, but about the same number of homes.
Lynnwood’s application estimates the land’s value at $6.9 million. That’s higher than the county’s appraised valued of about $4.4 million for the 2009 tax year. The city’s grant also includes more than $100,000 for demolishing buildings and other costs.
“To us, as a city, this is a very important request because we believe the development really does threaten the Lund’s Gulch area,” city parks and recreation director Lynn Sordel said.
In addition to Lund’s Gulch, Lynnwood’s adjacent conservation lands could be damaged by development at the site, Sordel said.
The Seabrook neighbor who stands to be most affected by development is Carlin McKinley, who lives directly downslope to the south.
“Keeping Seabrook Heights forested through a Conservation Futures Grant will help prevent landslides and erosion that would devastate Meadowdale Beach Park,” McKinley told the County Council last week. “We need to save this land from development in order to save Meadowdale Beach park, the watershed, and all the creatures who live therein … including me.”
Neighbors say the development would remove about 500 significant trees, leading to increased water runoff in an area with a history of landslides. Further instability could harm native salmon and steelhead in Lund’s Gulch.
“Our major concern has been the protection of that park, that gem for Snohomish County,” said Forest Hertlein, who lives about a mile away.
Other large conservation futures requests to be considered next week include:
•$3.5 million for about nine acres next to the Deer Creek watershed (town of Woodway)
•$2.7 million for a golf course and other properties totalling 160 acres adjoining Snohomish County’s Flowing Lake county park (county Parks and Recreation Department)
•$2.5 million for more Japanese Gulch acquisitions totalling 98 acres (Mukilteo with help from the Forterra nonprofit group)
•$2.3 million for 15 acres of estuary including the former Ovenell farm south of Highway 532 just before the Camano Gateway Bridge (Stanwood)
•$2 million for 10 miles of trail easement along the East Side Rail Corridor between Brightwater and Snohomish, for use as an extension of the Centennial Trail (county Parks and Recreation Department)
•$1.7 million for about 167 acres east of Snohomish, including about 1,500 lineal feet on Storm Lake (county Parks and Recreation Department)
•Nearly $1.2 million for about 4.4 acres in the Hall Creek Conservation Area (Mountlake Terrace)
•$1.1 million for an easement on Anderson Farm, which includes about 210 acres along Highway 530 east of Arlington (Forterra)
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.