County approves land purchase from UW

MALTBY — The Snohomish County Council agreed Monday to buy more than 100 acres from the University of Washington, clearing the way for a future park with baseball and soccer fields.

The $9.7 million purchase, which includes the Wellington Hills Golf Course, is being paid for with settlement money linked to King County’s Brightwater sewage treatment plant. Under terms of the 2005 settlement, Snohomish County must use a portion of the money by the end of 2015 to buy parkland to mitigate the Brightwater plant’s impact on the community and environment.

The council’s vote was 5-0.

“I’m really pleased that we were able to find a property of this quality in close proximity … to the property that it’s helping mitigate,” County Councilman Dave Somers said.

The county’s approval follows the UW Board of Regents’ Jan. 12 decision to sell the property. The transaction is expected to close in February or March.

The UW’s property, which is known as Wellington Hills, lies south of Highway 522 near Brightwater’s Maltby plant at the crux of Highway 522 and Highway 9.

County Executive Aaron Reardon, whose staff negotiated the deal, called it, “a great value for money that must be spent on park land.

“Its future uses will enhance an already world-class parks-and-recreation system,” he said.

The land is large enough to fit several sports facilities and other recreational outlets. Specific plans are to be determined by the county parks department with public involvement, Reardon spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said.

The university bought the property in several parcels in the early 1990s using school and state money, according to a summary provided to regents. The original idea was to use the land for a north-end branch campus, but the Legislature later opted for the current UW Bothell campus instead.

The university leases the nine-hole golf course and a clubhouse, which pre-date the school’s ownership. County leaders have said a master-planning process is necessary before making a decision on whether to keep the golf course. However, it’s doubtful there would be enough space for the golf course to coexist with the volume of new athletic fields the county has in mind.

The property is the same area university and political leaders considered for a technology and research hub a decade ago. Ultimately, the County Council decided against rezoning the area for an industrial park.

Money for buying the UW property would come from a $70 million settlement Snohomish County reached with King County in 2005 over the Brightwater sewage treatment plant. About $30.4 million of the settlement was set aside for recreation and parks. The Wellington Hills purchase would fulfill a requirement to buy a Maltby-area park within four miles of the Brightwater plant.

“These funds could not be redirected to other projects or expended outside the four-mile mitigation zone, so finding property of such caliber is important to us,” county parks director Tom Teigen said.

Discussions from likely park users before the Brightwater settlement suggested that active recreation, including fields for team sports, were what the community most wanted to see.

“That was loud and clear in that process,” Teigen said.

Having enough ballfields at the park to host large sports tournaments should raise money to cover ongoing maintenance and operations, he said.

In addition to Wellington Hills, Brightwater mitigation dollars have helped pay for or build three other county parks:

Design, engineering, permitting and construction of Tambark Creek Community Park on 35th Avenue SE, which the county owns with Mill Creek. The 38-acre park is currently under construction and expected to open late this year.

Buying 127 of the 800 acres in the Paradise Valley Conservation Area, which is near Highway 522 east of Wellington Hills. The conservation area includes more than 13 miles of trails and the county’s first mountain-bike-skills park.

Purchase, design, engineering, permitting and construction of Miner’s Corner Community Park at 228th Street SE 45th Avenue SE near Bothell. The 13-acre project is expected to enter the permitting phase this spring and to open in 2013.

Other portions of the Brightwater settlement paid for public safety ($25.9 million) and habitat improvements ($10.8 million), as well as a community center ($3 million).

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

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