Land near Arlington will be developed … into a farm

ARLINGTON — A dirty, drooping banner on the side of a big red barn near the edge of the city advertises “New Homes and Lots” for sale.

It’s been there for nearly a decade, but it’s about to come down.

The lots aren’t for sale anymore. About 150 acres on the south side of Highway 530 had been platted and permitted as a new 15-house subdivision. One house was built and sold. Then the rest of the project was foreclosed on after the recession crippled the housing market.

Earlier this month, the Seattle-based conservation group Forterra bought the remaining 140 acres. A conservation easement is being put on the property to protect it as agricultural land and prevent any further development. Forterra plans to sell the acreage, which they’re calling Riverbend Farm, to a young, third-generation farmer who has been growing crops on the land while it was awaiting development.

The farmer, 32-year-old Andrew Albert, also manages and is part owner of a farm down the road from Riverbend. It’s about a quarter mile as the crow flies, he said. The 140 acres he’s buying from Forterra will be the first farmland that’s ever been solely his, though. His dad owns the majority of the stakes in the family farm.

Albert has been farming since he was a teen. As a freshman in high school, he used his dad’s equipment to harvest hay on a school property. A year after graduating, he was farming full time. He grows hay, corn, wheat, spinach and other vegetables.

Albert has big plans for Riverbend Farm. He’ll start by clearing out a field full of thick, tangled blackberry vines so he can make more room for his crops.

“This place, at one point, was completely covered in weeds,” he said. “I remember driving through that field and the thistles were taller than I was on my tractor.”

Riverbend is surrounded mostly by other farmland. Neighbors include the popular berry picking spot Biringer Farm and several pumpkin patches that bustle with activity in the fall.

The paved cul-de-sac, utility boxes and wells that were put in to prepare for development seem out of place among the fields, Forterra vice president Michelle Connor said.

“The conversion of property in the middle of farmland jeopardizes the rest of the farmland around it,” she said. “It also fundamentally changes the nature of the city of Arlington from having farmland at its door to having a subdivision.”

The Riverbend acreage belonged to the largest dairy in Arlington before it was divided up for development and then foreclosed. The property was scheduled to be auctioned off when Forterra inked a deal to buy it.

There’s a lot of risk in taking on the property, Connor said. Workers removed diesel and gasoline tanks buried in the ground to prepare for development. The work wasn’t properly documented so the state labeled the area as a brownfield, meaning it’s a possible contamination site. Forterra is working on getting that sorted out before selling to Albert, Connor said. None of their examinations have found any contamination but they need the state to confirm their findings.

“No farmer could step into that, so Forterra is kind of stepping into all the risk to protect this farmland,” Connor said.

The organization’s budget for acquiring the property and dealing with legal and environmental entanglements is $700,000, but that could go down as the organization works with the state to resolve concerns such as the brownfield designation. Forterra also had help from government and conservation groups to cover the costs of wiping out development rights and securing the acreage as farmland. Snohomish County Conservation Futures contributed $100,000, the Snohomish County Conservation District landed $50,000 from the Washington Conservation Commission and the city of Arlington contributed about $15,000.

“It’s a nice way to end the year, getting this property,” Connor said. “We feel really good about it. It was a tough hill to climb, but it was worth it.”

Forterra also is raising money to pay $30,000 in back taxes. They’d like to sell Albert a farm “with a clean bill of health,” Connor said.

Albert hopes to officially be the owner of Riverbend Farm by April 1. To him, the property represents solid ground to stand on and space to grow. He’d like to add new buildings, maybe a barn and silo. The farm he manages for his dad is mostly in the floodplain while Riverbend Farm has room to build on higher ground.

Owning a farm also gives him the ability to control the property’s future.

“It’s security in my business,” Albert said. “This is mine. I can farm this as long as I’m able.”

The average age of farmers in Snohomish County is 55, and Albert jokes that he’s dragging the average down. He wants to continue an agricultural legacy that stretches back to a family farm in Switzerland.

He knows it won’t be easy cleaning up the overgrown Riverbend property and transforming what was ready to become a neighborhood into fields of crops. Still, he’s hoping to have seeds in the ground in 2016.

“I like fixing things up,” Albert said. “Next spring, coming into Arlington is going to look a lot nicer.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

People look out onto Mountain Loop Mine from the second floor hallway of Fairmount Elementary on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mining company ordered to stop work next to school south of Everett

After operating months without the right paperwork, OMA Construction applied for permits last week. The county found it still violates code.

Snohomish County Jail. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Arlington woman arrested in 2005 case of killed baby in Arizona airport

Annie Sue Anderson, 51, has been held in the Snohomish County Jail since December. She’s facing extradition.

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

The Nimbus Apartments are pictured on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County has the highest rent in the state. Could this bill help?

In one year, rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Snohomish County went up 20%. A bill seeks to cap any increases at 7%.

A child gets some assistance dancing during Narrow Tarot’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Lucky Dime in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drive-By Truckers, Allen Stone headline 2024 Fisherman’s Village lineup

Big names and local legends alike are coming to downtown Everett for the music festival from May 16 to 18.

Sen. Patty Murray attends a meeting at the Everett Fire Department’s Station 1 on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sen. Murray seeks aid for Snohomish County’s fentanyl, child care crises

The U.S. senator visited Everett to talk with local leaders on Thursday, making stops at the YMCA and a roundtable with the mayor.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Lake Serene in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service)
How will climate change affect you? New tool gives an educated guess

The Climate Vulnerability Tool outlines climate hazards in Snohomish County — and it may help direct resources.

A cliff above the Pilchuck River shows signs of erosion Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Lake Connor Park sits atop the cliff. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Hill erodes in Lake Connor Park, forcing residents of 8 lots to vacate

The park has just under 1,500 members east of Lake Stevens. The riverside hill usually loses 18 inches a year. But it was more this year.

Ken Florczak, president of the five-member board at Sherwood Village Mobile Home community on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How Mill Creek mobile home residents bought the land under their feet

At Sherwood Village, residents are now homeowners. They pay a bit more each month to keep developers from buying their property.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
As 4-month closure looms, Highway 529 bridge to briefly close Sunday

The northbound section of the Snohomish River Bridge will be closed 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The monthslong closure is slated for mid-May.

Ninth-grade program gets money, initiatives to get hearings

It’s day 47, here is what’s happening in the Legislature.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.