A very happy development

Nearly two years ago, the Snohomish County Council drove a stake through the idea of plopping a mini-city of up to 6,000 homes on forestland near Lake Roesiger. On Tuesday, the saga behind one of the worst development ideas in county history came to a final, happy ending.

The state Board of Natural Resources approved the purchase of nearly 2,900 acres of rural timberland that had been planned as a “fully contained community” — a misnomer on the scale of “jumbo shrimp.” Such developments were peddled as rural towns where folks would live, work, shop and go to school.

In reality, they would have become one of the worst examples of sprawl, overwhelming rural roads and local resources as they carved up more and more rural landscape.

Snohomish County has agreed to buy an easement on 200 of those acres, which combined with another 40 acres the county plans to purchase, will be used for a vast park. The rest of the land will be operated by the state as working forestland, with proceeds going into the Common School Trust, which helps fund public school construction. The Cascade Land Conservancy helped put the deal together.

The state’s share of the $8 million purchase — $6.58 million — will be paid from a fund dedicated to replacing state trust land. The county’s portion comes from conservation futures money, a portion of county property taxes that goes for setting aside land for parks and open space. The total purchase price came in slightly below the land’s appraised value.

The public benefit will be considerable. Sound forest management practices will be employed to generate revenue for schools while preserving a valuable scenic landscape. And families soon will have another recreational opportunity nearby.

Such an outcome was hard to imagine just four years ago, when the developer behind the proposed Falcon Ridge development west of Lake Roesiger launched a sleazy and grossly misleading campaign against County Councilman Dave Somers, who opposed “fully contained communities” and worked for their eventual repeal. Mailings accused Somers of being in favor of sprawl and global warming and against affordable homes, laughable charges that did far more damage to the developer’s credibility than to Somers.

It’s true that the collapse of home prices may well have doomed Falcon Ridge even if the council hadn’t acted. But having “fully contained communities” off the table as an option will help developers and county planners focus on ideas for the future that offer better protection of rural open space and ensure adequate transportation, water and sewer systems.

For now, we applaud a decidedly happy development at Lake Roesiger.

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