Stanwood seeks $500,000 grant to finish Heritage Park project

STANWOOD — Long-term plans to complete Heritage Park and preserve farmland are a step closer to coming together.

The city of Stanwood is applying for a $500,000 grant from the state that will allow the city to complete the Heritage Park project, which started in 1991. A similar grant will help the city acquire the development rights of farmland outside the city limits.

The City Council unanimously approved the grant applications on Thursday.

If the grant is approved by the state Recreation and Conservation Office later this fall, and if the Legislature follows through in 2015 and signs off on the list of grants, then the city will be able to raise the rest of the money for both plans.

The plan for Heritage Park is to build a fourth baseball and softball field on the 43.5-acre park, install lighting, bleachers, a dugout, backstop, a concession stand and signs, and complete a perimeter trail.

“For such a short trail it’s used quite a bit, so to completely build it would be quite nice,” Mayor Leonard Kelley said.

RCO grants require the city to match those funds and the city will have to come up with an estimated $590,500 to complete the project.

“That’s going to be a challenge,” Kelley said.

Some of that money would come out of the city’s park impact fees and real estate excise taxes, said city administrator Deborah Knight, but that will likely not be sufficient.

“The two revenue sources that we would draw on rely on a strong housing market,” Knight said.

But Stanwood is just now emerging from eight years of recession-like conditions, and would likely need to find another grant to cover about $250,000 of the city’s share, Knight said.

And because hundreds of cities apply for RCO grants, there’s a chance Stanwood’s bid won’t be approved, and that would halt the park project for at least another two years because the RCO grant applications are only accepted in even-numbered years to coincide with the Legislature’s budget cycle.

The farmland preservation grant is also issued through the state’s RCO, and goes through the same process of appropriation, with the same uncertainties.

The city was spurred to action by the purchase of two key pieces of property by other groups: the Matterand property on the south bank of the Stillaguamish River was purchased by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, and Leque Island between Stanwood and Camano Island was bought by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Both the tribe and Fish and Wildlife are in the process of removing levees and turning the former farms into estuaries.

As a historic farming community, the city wants to preserve that heritage, and the loss of two pieces of farmland to other uses makes it harder to sustain a farming community, Knight said.

“It’s not a bad thing from an open space perspective, but it makes the remaining area more difficult to be productive as farmland,” she said. “You have to have a critical mass of farmland for it to support a farming community.”

The city has been talking with several farmers who own property west of the city limits along the shores of Skagit Bay, but any purchase of development rights won’t happen until sometime in 2015.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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