If residents living near Esperance Park in Edmonds have their way, the Edmonds School District will sell its surplus property adjacent to the park to the Snohomish County Parks and Recreation Department.
The county also has every intention of adding the 3.35 acres of vacant property, located to the south and east of its existing 6.8 acres of park, according to Parks and Recreation Director Tom Teigen.
Residents brought the issue of the potential sale of the property to the Edmonds School District Board of Directors meeting last week. During the public comment section of the meeting, residents expressed concerns because a developer also has contacted the District and expressed interest in the property, which is located in unincorporated Snohomish County.
The potential sale of the property is in its early stages and was not an item on the School Board agenda. District Executive Director of Business and Operations Stewart Mhyre said that the district has received letters of interest from Snohomish County and a developer. The county’s letter was received in June 2014 and the developer’s was in March 2015. The developer did not disclose its potential plans for the property, according to Mhyre.
“A letter of interest is basically just showing an interest in the property, giving a proposal for a purchase price and asking to enter into negotiations,” Mhyre said.
The prospect of a developer purchasing the property prompted residents to urge the school board to make every effort to sell the property to the county.
Lyle McMahan has lived in a house north of the property since the 1960s. When the Board considers the sale, McMahan said he hopes that it “isn’t swayed by competition for revenue. That’s a concern for the community.”
McMahan added that the view of Mount Rainier from Esperance Park could be obscured if a developer purchases the District’s property.
“If this is developed into high rises or three story buildings, you’re going to lose it,” he said. “The consideration for the people affected in that community area by development of that type has to be part of your thought when you make your decision.”
Erin McKeown, who frequently walks her dog at the park, drew a contrast between the benefits of the park long term versus more housing. She urged the board to think about the community, the kids and the dog walkers.
“It’s short-term gain versus long-term gain,” she said. “I think the long term has to be thought of, not just the monetary gain.”
Another resident pleaded with the board to “please let us make this a park. There is such a dearth of green space in the area … we need more green space.”
The county purchased its property from the School District in 1986. At the time there was a building on the property and several school district programs used the site. Later the school district rented out the property. The building was demolished in 2004.
Teigen said that the county was set to purchase the property from the school district through conservation funds obtained in 2013. The price was around $800,000. But the county and school district eventually discovered that the property’s size was misreported. What was thought to be a 2.8 acre parcel of land actually was 3.35 acres. The result was that a simple purchase turned into a more complex transaction, Teigen said. Both parties then negotiated a price of $1.25 million in the summer of 2014.
The county has applied for a $500,000 grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which Teigen fully expects to be funded in the upcoming state budget.
Both the county and the school district will be getting separate appraisals of the property. With the appreciation in the real estate market, Teigen expects the Esperance property to be valued in the $1.3 million range.
Mhyre noted that under state law, the school district cannot sell the property for less than 90 percent of the appraised value.
“The board will make the determination of who they’re going to sell the property to,” Mhyre said. “The county has applied for this grant and they feel fairly confident they are going to get it. It’s subject to the [state] legislature funding that grant. … There is no guarantee for that money.”
Teigen said, however, that even in the worst case scenario where the county receives no state grant money, he is confident the county will be able to find the necessary money to purchase the property. Teigen said that he’s consulted with both the Snohomish County Executive Office and Snohomish County Council member Stephanie Wright.
“We are absolutely committed to purchasing the property,” Teigen said. “We have a number of tools available to us. I think certainly the school district has always been interested in selling the park to us.”
While the property is relatively small from the county’s perspective, Teigen said, “for that community, it’s critical. We understand that.”
The state grant money, if funded by the Legislature, would be available in July. Edmonds School District Superintendent Nick Brossoit noted that the board does not conduct property negotiation in public but rather in executive session.
“This is public property,” said resident John Briney. “Parks is willing to take it over and incorporate it into Esperance Park. I hope you give parks time to come up with the money.”
– By David Pan