Forest near Lake Roesiger eyed for large park

LAKE ROESIGER — Forestland where a developer once envisioned thousands of homes and an 18-hole golf course could become one of the area’s largest regional parks.

Snohomish County and the state Department of Natural Resources are looking to buy nearly 3,000 acres. The land west of Lake Roesig

er is where developer Dave Barnett sought to build a planned d

evelopment called Falcon Ridge, until the county changed zoning rules nearly two years ago.

Now the state and the county are considering a proposal under which most of that area would be managed as state timberlands. The county would own smaller pieces for parking and camping. People would be able to access the state lands for recreation except during timber harvests every few decades. The harvests would benefit local governments.

“This is really the best use of this land for a lot of reasons,” County Council Chairman Dave Somers said. “If you allowed a lot of development out there, we’d all get stuck paying for all the roads and schools and fire district costs.”

The proposal near Lake Roesiger was one of several land acquisitions recommended Monday by a county advisory board. The Conservation Futures Advisory Board advises the county on spending property tax money set aside by law for land purchases.

Other projects that gained approval included steps toward buying a large portion of Japanese Gulch and doubling the size of Everett’s Harborview Park.

The Lake Roesiger proposal would cost the state and the county about $8 million combined. It would have the county paying nearly $1.4 million for 40 acres of land plus a 200-acre easement. The DNR would pay the rest.

For the project to move ahead, state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark needs to approve the purchase and forward it to the state Board of Natural Resources for a vote. The DNR hopes the board will be able to take that vote at its June 7 meeting.

“I wouldn’t anticipate this being managed any differently from other DNR lands,” DNR spokesman Bob Redling said. “We recognize the responsibility of it being in a very important watershed.”

While the housing marking was strong, Barnett’s land near Lake Roesiger was at the center of contentious debate about developing rural areas.

Zoning for a concept called a fully contained community would have allowed the Shoreline developer to build a mini-city with homes, shops and other businesses.

The public outcry was loud. Many people questioned the need to build so much so far from existing jobs and infrastructure.

The County Council voted in 2009 to get rid of this zoning category. By that time, no mini-cities had been built and Barnett’s Falcon Ridge was the only one proposed.

The council’s decision left Barnett with large holdings of land zoned for commercial forestry, which typically allows just one house per 80 acres. The following year, he tried to market some of the huge lots as “executive estates.” None sold.

Now, Barnett is willing to entertain a reasonable offer, said his real estate agent, Greg Wright.

“We ultimately want to see it end up as something that’s going to enhance the community and make it better,” Wright said.

The Lake Roesiger land wasn’t the only potential purchase of regional significance.

Mukilteo’s mayor and City Council president left Monday’s conservation futures meeting optimistic that they would have a shot at buying 98 acres of developable land on the west side of Japanese Gulch. The land belongs to Metropolitan Creditors Trust of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

The buy would protect a rare slice of urban forest full of heavily used hiking and biking trails. Without protection, Mukilteo city leaders fear much of that land would likely be used for houses.

The board recommended using $500,000 in conservation futures money toward the purchase. That’s only a portion of the estimated $3 million or more it would cost to buy the land. That means Mukilteo and the nonprofit Cascade Land Conservancy of Seattle, which has been involved in the negotiations, would need to raise a lot more money. One option might be a phased purchase over several years.

If a deal is struck, about 140 acres would be in public ownership west of the railroad tracks that cross the gulch. Mukilteo currently owns about 40 acres. The land under discussion is mostly flat, making it better for walking and biking trails than many of Mukilteo’s steep gulches.

“We have no plans other than leaving it as trails and open space,” Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said. “It’s pretty much keeping it as is.”

People who use the area have already built an extensive trail network, and are quick to repair damage after storms.

“It’s clearly an area the community has a passion for,” City Council president Richard Emery said.

Other land buys on the county’s conservation futures priority list are:

•$400,000 to help Everett buy 9 acres from Burlington Northern Santa Fe next to Harborview Park. The purchase would more than double the park’s size and would help protect Glenwood Creek. Without it, houses could be built there.

$225,00 for some of the cost of buying 30 acres at Quinn’s Crossing in Maltby. The land is part of the same development where arsonists torched Street of Dreams homes in 2008. The land is directly north of the county’s Paradise Valley Conservation Area and proponents say preserving it would help water quality.

$380,000 to buy more land near the 14 acres that Snohomish County already owns on the west shore of Lake Stickney in unincorporated Lynnwood.

Recommendations from the board are forwarded to the county executive and then to the County Council for final vote. The conservation futures board has seven members, three from county government, two from municipalities and two members of the general public.

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

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