Snohomish secures farmland for parks, recreation

SNOHOMISH — The city has inked a $500,000 deal to buy 20 acres of farmland along the Snohomish River. City leaders have long wanted to preserve the area for public recreation but the sale agreement allows the owners to hold on to certain rights as they part with the riverfront land southeast of downtown.

The city bought the property from the Ed and Edith Stocker family with grant money from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures program, which is funded by property taxes. The deal gives the Stockers water rights, allows them continued access for livestock and, among other things, lets them have a say in naming the new park.

“In total, we got what we wanted. And we had somebody else to pay for it,” said Mayor Karen Guzak, noting the city did not want to lose state and county dollars that are paying for the city’s vision. “We’ve been talking about this for so long and finally it will happen. It’s going to be a major asset for the city.”

Snohomish has had its sights set on the land for the past 20 years. Part of the site, which runs along the river southeast of Cady Park, is within the city limits; the rest is not. With the property, city project manager Ann Stanton said, Snohomish wants to help restore the salmon habitat, preserve open space, expand the regional trail system and build a boat launch. The state has agreed to pay for a new boat launch on the property.

“It’s a real gem for the city,” Stanton said. “And it has regional significance beyond Snohomish.”

However, the deal, which closed last week, allows the Stockers to keep the water rights to serve the family’s neighboring properties. Stanton said there was no negotiating on that point and the city did not see a reason to object.

Before the city names its new park, it will have to get permission from the Stockers. The family has approved calling it Cady or Riverfront park. The city agreed to pay the Stockers $10,000 if the park is named anything else without permission. Guzak said she believes the Stockers wanted a say in the park’s name because they have an emotional investment in the land. She said she doesn’t care what the city calls it, so long as the park affords the public increased access to the river and recreational space.

The city also agreed to let the Stockers move livestock across the land. Until fences are put up, the family can also pasture their cattle there.

The deal calls for the youth soccer club to continue using the site for parking during up to two tournaments each year.

“They were all conditions of sale,” Stanton said. “They wouldn’t sell otherwise.”

The city, the county and the state have unsuccessfully tried to buy the land from the Stockers in the past, she said.

The $500,000 price tag raised questions earlier this year, because the state previously valued the flood-prone land at about $150,000. That was before the city did another appraisal in 2014 that put the property’s worth at $500,000.

Stanton said the earlier appraisal focused solely on agriculture and did not account for almost two acres of developable land. There’s also about a quarter mile of riverfront.

In the sale agreement, the Stockers disclosed that flooding, standing water and drainage problems have affected access to the property. Damage has occurred as a result of storms.

Under previous ownership, the land had been used for industrial or commercial purposes, including as a railroad right-of-way, a slaughterhouse and a shingle mill. The agreement discloses that these uses could have left hazardous waste behind.

Critical areas on the property include wetlands, shoreline and floodplain. Building is not allowed in those areas. The city has not conducted a study on the land but initial assessments did not indicate any problems, Stanton said. Proposed county zoning changes could also affect the city’s plans. The land is in the A-10 zone, which allows for agriculture on lots of at least 10 acres. Public parks are permitted in that zone.

If the proposed rule changes were adopted, parks would allowed under certain conditions. Guzak and Stanton said they believe the city’s plans would still be OK under the proposed regulations.

The city wants to build a boat launch to replace the one at Cady Park. Stanton said the city has for years wanted to move it because the steep sides and fast-moving water make it dangerous. Cady Park also lacks adequate parking. The city plans to continue using the existing boat ramp for canoes and kayaks.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is designing and building a new boat launch. It received $500,000 in the capital budget. Some of that money is expected to pay for the boat launch. Construction is to start in the fall of 2015 or 2016, depending on how long permitting takes. Once the boat launch is built, the city will take over maintenance.

The county’s Centennial Trail, the city’s Riverfront Trail and others could be extended to the site. The city has not yet determined how it will pay for the trail projects.

The land is not connected to sewer or water. If the city decides to build public restrooms, it will have to hook up to utilities.

Stanton said specific plans will be developed once people have weighed in and the city has incorporated those ideas in the project.

“This is the best site we could have come up with,” she said. “It’s a really good thing for the community.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports

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