Reardon offers land for UW, County Council wants park

LAKE STEVENS — Snohomish County spent millions buying land and planning for a community park on 35 acres south of this city.

When the state was looking for places to build a University of Washington branch campus, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon agreed to consider offering that land — along with about 60 acres of private property — as one of the possible sites.

Now it’s one of the final four locations being considered for a campus, and that worries those expecting the county to build a park.

“It’s very, very disappointing,” neighbor Joanne Martina said. “The struggle a lot of people put in, and the time and effort to get a good plan for that area — I just don’t get it.”

The controversy comes as the state still is weighing the pros and cons of the possible campus sites. Lawmakers are expected to be given a report in two weeks naming their top pick. Boosters are competing to sell the Lake Stevens site over the other three locations — one in Marysville and two in Everett.

County Councilman Dave Somers said he was surprised to learn that important county park land in his district was offered for the new UW campus. Residents have been calling him and complaining ever since.

The County Council has control over county-owned land and Reardon didn’t consult council members, Somers said.

“I made the governor’s office aware of my general concerns about it, not trying to throw a wrench in the works at this point,” Somers said. “Hopefully that will be taken into consideration.”

Reardon said he had to rush a letter of support to the state to help proponents of the Lake Stevens site, who faced a Sept. 14 deadline. He said his main goal is to get a university in the county.

“They needed a letter saying we’d be open to conversations,” Reardon said. “I had an hour to send the letter up.”

Reardon’s two-page letter listed seven properties and said if the Lake Stevens site “is selected for further consideration, the county is open to discussions regarding uses for this land that are compatible with a University of Washington campus.”

The correspondence wasn’t soliciting a sale or promising to sell, but showed the county would entertain an offer, Reardon wrote.

The Lake Stevens site is on Cavalero Hill.

Developers wanted to build commercial buildings on part of the land in 2001, but the county worried about traffic congestion. So the county purchased 28 acres, and in 2006 added another 7 acres that had houses that have since been demolished. In all, the county has spent $3.15 million on the land.

The county worked with neighbors and, in 2002, finished plans for Cavalero Hill Community Park, a combination of sports fields and open space.

Lake Stevens Mayor Vern Little said the city still has a chance to win the campus even if the county park isn’t available.

“I think we still have a good opportunity of being chosen whether it’s in or out,” Little said.

If the county park land becomes campus property, 40 acres could be found elsewhere for another park, Little said.

Reardon said he believes a new UW campus and a park can coexist.

“The goal for that land in the past is completely possible and is still viable if the University of Washington chooses to locate a facility there,” Reardon said.

Reardon said he isn’t going to stand in the way of any community’s potential for the UW college campus.

The Marysville and Lake Stevens sites are superior to Everett’s because there is room to build a campus large enough to handle 10,000 students and dorms, Reardon said.

If the Lake Stevens site is selected, Reardon would be open only for discussions over what will happen to the envisioned park.

Some neighbors such as Martina still hope the county sticks with its original promise. Martina said she fought the proposed commercial project and rejoiced when the county said it would instead someday be a park.

Reardon’s reassurance “doesn’t calm my fears,” Martina said, “because that’s what the people in the power positions, the people with the right to sign the papers, do to put people off. It’s too easy to slip it through.”

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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