Park District, others to rescue Gazzam Lake

A three-year legal dispute between owners of property located around Gazzam Lake Park will be resolved by next April if the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District – with the community’s help – purchases some 27 acres of private land located near the park.

The park district has agreed to a $50,000 option to purchase seven undeveloped parcels of land owned by five individual parties for $800,000 by April 22, 2012, according to Ryan Vancil, the district’s attorney.

The four owners of parcels located between the park and Crystals Springs Road were among the West Gazzam Property Owners group and a construction corporation that filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Walt and Nora McGraw, who were opposed to the building of a paved road through the park and across a portion of their property.

The plaintiffs, owners of six parcels of land they wished to develop, had sought a public access easement from their properties to Marshall Road to the north of the park, an easement that would transect the park as well as a small portion of land owned by the McGraws. In response, Walt McGraw organized a “Save Gazzam” that initiated a campaign against the easement and the proposed road construction.

The plaintiff landowners argued that they had the right to pave the public easement for access to their parcel, which could accommodate up to 15 homes. The easement was established along Gazzam Lake’s north border when the park was originally acquired by the district in 1995.

While city planners said the landowners needed to assess alternatives such as Crystal Springs Drive and Springridge Road to access their property, they argued that a new road connecting to Marshall Road was the best alternative.

After a judge denied requests for summary judgment, there was gradual movement toward a compromise until negotiations began in earnest about a year ago, though the property owners retained the easement in Gazzam Park.

The park district, which wasn’t part of the lawsuit, will pay about two-thirds of the purchase price through district funds and public grants.

The remaining one-third, or at least $225,000, will be raised through a community campaign operated by Keep Gazzam Wild (nee Save Gazzam), which includes the McGraws’ involvement.

Vancil said the option agreement will be voided if Keep Gazzam Wild fails to raise at least $225,000 toward the purchase of the property.

Karen Molinari, who will be leading the community group’s fundraising activity, said the funding goal is realistic because islanders understand the importance of protecting the lake and park as much as possible.

“People are very passionate about wanting to see this happen,” said Molinari, a former executive director of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust. “It’s a very important resource. For example, it’s one of the largest canopies for migrating birds between Seattle and the coast.”

Molinari said “a couple of major gifts” are already in the works.

“We are just getting started,” she said, “and I’m meeting soon with the land trust. Because we’re not a nonprofit organization, the land trust will be our fiduciary agent with all the tax-deductible donations going through them.”

The property owners involved in the proposed land sale include: Robert and Roberta Leigh; Marianne Mack; Nanci Stenshoel; W.M. Corbin Construction Corp; and Alan Black of Crystal Springs Tracts LLC.

Robert Leigh had said two years ago that he and the other plaintiffs were looking for a compromise all along.

“The collective intent of all the parties is to realize some value from our properties,” Leigh said.

Black was also involved in the negotiations during the past year as owner of the largest parcel of the seven that border the park. He was not part of the lawsuit and was a “significant private supporter of Gazzam Lake Park,” Vancil said.

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