Wellington Hills property sold to Northshore School District

The county once planned to develop a regional park there.

MALTBY — Snohomish County finalized the sale of the Wellington Hills property to the Northshore School District on Thursday, a day after elected leaders cleared a lingering obstacle.

The $11.2 million sale had been pending for two years. The county once planned to develop a regional park there with lighted ball fields, but backed off after neighbors and the city of Woodinville put up fierce resistance to its vision.

The holdup for the county selling Wellington to a new owner was a restrictive covenant meant to keep the 100-plus-acre parcel a public park. It dated from 2012, when the county bought the land from the University of Washington.

“We’ll continue to work with the University of Washington to remove the covenant,” county parks director Tom Teigen said. “The University of Washington, two years ago, agreed in principle.”

The covenant would have given the UW 50 percent of any profits from a sale if the land was rezoned and sold for development. The sale price to the school district covered what the county paid for the land as well as much of what was spent to identify wetlands, design road improvements and perform other studies, Teigen said.

University and county officials expect to have further discussion about the covenant, a UW spokesman said.

The land is zoned rural, but is next to the county’s urban-growth area. There has been pressure in the past to rezone it for denser development.

A school district document from 2015 outlined plans for a high school on the south side of the property and a middle school on north side. Those ideas are subject to change, depending on land-use regulations and growth in student population.

It’s unlikely anything would get built there for several years.

A spokeswoman for the Northshore School District declined to comment on the sale. It’s unclear whether the district will keep it open as an undeveloped park or close it off from public access.

The UW had acquired the land in the early 1990s for a branch campus, which it built instead near I-405 in Bothell.

The county bought the property from the UW in 2012, intending to build a regional park. A golf course that had operated there for generations closed down that fall. The county later bought three acres of adjacent land for the future park.

The county scaled back its park plans and eventually shelved them altogether in the face of opposition from neighbors and Woodinville. The property borders Woodinville, which is in King County, and many people who live next door in unincorporated Snohomish County closely identify with that city.

When county leaders authorized the Wellington sale to the school district in 2015, they also moved to buy an alternate site for a regional park: land on Highway 9 known as Carousel Ranch. Money to buy the park site came from the 2005 settlement with King County over the placement of the Brightwater sewage treatment plant inside Snohomish County. The county is developing Carousel Ranch into Maltby Area Community Park.

The County Council on Wednesday voted 4-1 to clear title on the Wellington property so the sale could go ahead.

Councilman Sam Low cast the opposing vote. Low said afterward that he would have preferred to find a way to keep “such a beautiful area” as a park.

“I’m supportive of Carousel Ranch,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re talking about Wellington and I wish would could’ve found a way to keep it open space and keep it a park.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald net.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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