The recent conflict involving the North and South Snohomish Little Leagues is nothing new in Snohomish County or the rest of our state. A shortage of land for parks is developing throughout metropolitan counties in Washington.
Two years ago I introduced a bill to allow farm lands in very limited circumstances to be used for recreational purposes. The bill twice passed the state Senate, only to be adamantly opposed by 1000 Friends of Washington. This group has proven to be not very friendly to Washington’s children, parents and farmers, who just want to let the kids have a decent place to play. In fact, in this circumstance I think 1000 Friends has been downright rude, stubborn and untruthful in its conduct regarding Senate Bill 5611.
Let me mention some facts in contrast to their statements and solutions.
During two legislative sessions I suggested amendment after amendment regarding their concerns. Not once was 1000 Friends willing to seriously negotiate, compromise or assist in finding a reasonable solution to a very serious problem.
SB 5611 would have had the following restrictions on using agricultural land for playfields:
1) The land needed to be out of farm production for at least five years, meaning it has been sitting idle and is unlikely to be returned to farm production;
2) No farmer could be forced to give up their land;
3) Any property would be subject to local government control by requiring a public hearing process and the local government would have final control;
4) No permanent structures could be built on the land, allowing it to be returned for agricultural use at a later time;
5) The farmers could have their land back after sufficient notice, meaning the agricultural zoning would still be in place;
6) No county could allow more than 1 to 2 percent of its total agricultural land to be used for recreational purposes.
In attempt after attempt to talk with 1000 Friends, they refused to budge one iota. They dug in their heals and simply stated under no circumstances whatsoever should agricultural land be used for kids and parks.
In return, what have been their statements and suggestions?
* Buy other land for parks. But what they don’t tell you is there is little to no land available inside urban growth lines in Snohomish County. North Snohomish Little League recently bought 20 acres of unproductive agricultural land on the edge of the city limits for $500,000.
Try to find 20 acres of undeveloped land that is flat, has no wetlands issues and has limited trees inside the urban growth lines in Snohomish County. If you can find it, it’s likely zoned for commercial or residential development and will sell for $6 million-$8 million.
1000 Friends also wants you to ask the Legislature to pay for this type of land. Wow! How many other little league organizations throughout the state would love to have that much money for one complex? If we gave that much for the land alone, other legislators would be accusing us of receiving the ultimate government pork, paying 16 to 20 times what it costs North Snohomish Little League.
* Pesticide use on neighboring fields. Well, that’s the purpose for the public hearing process. Not all agricultural land should be used for ballfields. Just choose another lot of land where that’s not a problem.
* Playfield traffic and farm vehicles are not compatible. Please, farm vehicles are built to be driven on public roads with sufficient slow moving vehicle signs.
* Ballfields should be located in neighborhoods where kids can ride their bikes to games and practices. Please tell me where you can find 20 acres of open land in existing neighborhoods.
* Less than 5 percent of the county’s existing farmland remains. Snohomish County has more than 50,000 acres of farmland and my bill limited it to less than 1 percent of all current agricultural land. That’s 500 acres, which is plenty to meet the need for decades to come.
* Once farmland has been graded, compacted and built on, it is not viable to return it to farming. Simply not true. Farm soil is repeatedly tilled, sowed and turned over after multiple uses. There are cases where commercial buildings with large asphalt parking lots have been returned to productive use.
My request to 1000 Friends: Be friendly, be realistic and be good neighbors. Politics requires good leadership so needs can be met in a reasonable manner. Limiting less than 1 percent of Snohomish County’s agricultural land for ballfields is not unreasonable.
I will be introducing another bill next year and hopefully we can find you living up to your name, being true friends for all of Washington.
State Sen. Dave Schmidt (R-Mill Creek) represents the 44th District, which includes Snohomish, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek and parts of Everett and Marysville.