The forested Wood Creek drainage and Burl Place of the Valley View neighborhood (lower left), shown here in May 2020, where several homes slid or slumped down an unstable slope. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

The forested Wood Creek drainage and Burl Place of the Valley View neighborhood (lower left), shown here in May 2020, where several homes slid or slumped down an unstable slope. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

Everett, environmental group to study Wood Creek future uses

The 92.5-acre property near Valley View had been proposed as surplus before neighbors rallied.

EVERETT — Wood Creek’s forested ravine is set for further evaluation and study this year by the city and an environmental nonprofit.

No decisions about its future have been made, but people across the city and beyond can have a say in it.

Everett is working with Forterra to re-evaluate the land’s soil stability and potential uses. Once that is determined, the city intends to get an appraisal of the acreage — which could remain an unmanaged urban forest, become a passive recreation area like the unofficial trails already there, or have small sections sold and developed for housing.

The 92.5-acre property near the Valley View neighborhood in Everett was proposed as surplus last year until Mayor Cassie Franklin and the Everett City Council heeded neighbors’ requests to reconsider.

“We’ve heard clearly how important this property is to the local community,” Deputy Mayor Nick Harper said. “We hope this partnership with Forterra allows us the opportunity to ensure the highest public benefit can be achieved.”

Usually, Forterra works with private land owners who want to sell their agricultural, forest or open space on ways to conserve it, including across Snohomish County. The group has experience proposing new land uses, but working on public land is rarer.

“If we do our job well, we’ll have a really good range of options that meet the intersection of the needs of the city, county, tribes, stakeholders and community,” Forterra senior director of policy Nick Bratton said.

The city and Snohomish County are paying Forterra to lead community engagement starting this summer. That will include conversations with neighbors; residents across Everett; Snohomish County, which owns about 10 acres of adjacent forest; and the Tulalip Tribes. The feedback will help determine funding and long-term land use options for Wood Creek.

The partnership was a hopeful sign for Valley View residents who asked the city to keep the property undeveloped.

“It’s moving in the right direction, but it isn’t a promise. I’m aware of that,” said Lois Bell, a Valley View resident since 2015 and committee member for Stewards of Wood Creek Everett, a group that formed in response to the city’s consideration of the property as surplus land. “Ideally we’d like it to be preserved. In what context, that’s to be decided.”

One possibility that would keep Wood Creek as open space is to transfer the development rights to another area, which could add density in parts of Everett, but decisions about the property are at least a year away.

The Valley View neighborhood of Everett abuts the Wood Creek drainage, which the city and environmental non-profit Forterra plan to evaluate further this year. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

The Valley View neighborhood of Everett abuts the Wood Creek drainage, which the city and environmental non-profit Forterra plan to evaluate further this year. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

Almost a century ago, Wood Creek was a primary water source for the city. But Everett soon outgrew the small stream and the city secured its water needs at Spada Lake.

Wood Creek has been owned by city’s utility department since.

Exactly what becomes of the land could depend on the evaluations and studies this year. The first will be a geotechnical study of the Wood Creek property’s soils, which had not been conducted prior to its inclusion on the city surplus land inventory. That work was estimated to cost $7,500 and a contract recommendation was expected in the coming two weeks.

“We just need to have a better understanding of what the steep slopes and what the geological hazards on the site could be,” Everett real property manager Paul McKee said.

An analysis of the wetlands is planned, as well, and other studies could be necessary depending on what land uses are considered, Harper said.

Money from a sale would go to the utility budget, an enterprise fund separate from the general fund that pays for administration, firefighting, parks, planning and police. Unlike some other properties Everett has sold, Wood Creek isn’t a significant financial burden because it is largely in its natural state, McKee said.

Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts isn’t convinced the property has much use for housing. After hearing from neighbors opposed to the city possibly listing it as surplus and selling it, he visited the site.

“I went out and took a look at it, and it’s a steep ravine, a very steep ravine that has sort of glacial till that would be very unstable if developed,” Roberts said. “I’m fairly certain these slopes have risks associated with them, in addition to incredible tree canopy. This probably isn’t ideal for development.”

The area has a history of landslides.

“The potential for landslides is real,” Bell said. “We have neighbors whose back yards are eroding. … If you dig down a little ways in my yard, it’s either fill dirt or it’s gravel. That’s not a good ridge.”

People driving on I-5 north of the Highway 526 interchange pass the trees every day. It would be easy to assume that foliage would stand forever.

“Obviously there’s a lot of scenic value as we drive by on I-5,” Forterra managing director of conservation transactions Joe Sambataro said.

Its future will be a decision for the Everett City Council.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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