By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — The dream of preserving a large chunk of land in Japanese Gulch for recreation has finally been realized.
The city of Mukilteo recently completed a purchase of 98 acres on the west side of the wooded ravine for $5.4 million.
The land, owned by Metropolitan Creditors Trust of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was zoned for light industry. For several years, gulch enthusiasts feared the company would sell the property for development. The parcel borders areas popular with hikers and mountain bikers.
An agreement on the sale was reached Friday.
“It’s something we worked on for quite awhile,” outgoing Mayor Joe Marine said.
Earlier estimates placed the potential cost of the land at $6 million or higher.
The city and company communicated over the years, but for much of that time the city didn’t have the money to buy the land.
In August, the city received a $2.5 million grant from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures fund for Japanese Gulch. On top of $1 million it already had received from the county and another $1 million received from the state earlier this year, the city suddenly had $4.5 million in hand.
Negotiations intensified and the city scraped together $900,000 in money from its real-estate excise tax and park-acquisition funds, mayor-elect Jennifer Gregerson said.
“We thought it could cost $8 million, recently we talked about $6 million, so I think the $5.4 million is great,” said Gregerson, who worked on the plan while on the City Council. “And we didn’t raise taxes, we used funds that we had.”
A property tax ballot measure to raise $3.2 million to buy the gulch narrowly failed in the fall of 2012. The measure received 58 percent of the vote, but as a tax levy it was required to gain a 60 percent majority.
Despite the show of support, city officials decided against putting another measure on the ballot this year.
Marine said he was involved in the negotiations from the beginning. The two sides started about $750,000 apart. “I would say in the end, they gave up more, definitely,” he said.
Marine said he was glad to be able to help make the purchase happen before leaving office.
“A lot of people put a lot of effort into acquiring that property,” he said.
State Sen. Paull Shin, state Rep. Marko Liias, Snohomish County councilmen Brian Sullivan and John Koster, along with Marine, serve as advisory, non-voting board members of the Japanese Gulch Group. The non-profit organization has promoted preserving the gulch.
“We really couldn’t have done it without all of them supporting this project,” said outgoing City Councilman Richard Emery, a longtime gulch advocate.
Emery said community support, including last year’s vote, was instrumental in showing elected officials that many people valued the gulch.
“This is going to be a resource and recreational opportunity and natural space now forever,” Emery said. “It’s just a jewel for everyone to have.”
Gregerson said the next step will be for the city and gulch supporters to develop a plan to integrate trails into the new property. Athletic fields have been mentioned as a possibility, she said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few years ago The Herald shared the history of Japanese Gulch through the story of Mukilteo pioneer Masaru “Mas” Odoi, in a two-part story, “A Place of Happiness and Peace.”