City will buy park parcel on Mazanita after all

The Williams deal goes through, as the city sells land to cover half the cost.

A week before Halloween, a proposal to buy Manzanita Bay parkland came back from the dead.

The $1.7 million purchase of the Williams property was approved four votes to three at the City Council meeting Wednesday, after the council agreed to an amendment requiring the city to sell at least $850,000 in surplus property to help pay for it.

The council killed off the original proposal to buy the property in August, but the deal was reworked to give the city more flexibility.

The city will use councilmanic bonds to purchase 4.04 acres of land and 5.2 acres of tidelands from the Williams family for $300,000 less than the $2 million assessed value. Kelly Samson, a private developer, will simultaneously purchase the remaining 11 acres of the Williams property from the family.

The parcel’s mix of sloped lawns, mature forest and low-bank waterfront on the southeast side of the bay will be a public treasure, said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil, who worked with city staff and the Williams family to revive the proposal.

“I know this is something we will be proud to have and share in years ahead,” she said.

The surplus land sale amendment was not enough to satisfy Bill Knobloch, Chris Snow and Kjell Stoknes, who opposed the purchase. They felt the financial burdens already riding on the city combined with the strings attached to the property make it a bum deal.

Conditions built into the sale will allow the upland owners to share a boat shed on the property on a 99-year lease. It will also require the city to keep historic views of the bay intact, limit parking to 12 spaces and not issue permits for gatherings of more than 30 people.

Stoknes saw those covenants as a recipe for future conflict.

“I think we’re buying problems,” he said.

Knobloch and Snow said there are too many other priorities, including park land in Winslow, that needed funding, and Knobloch called the Williams deal part of a community “financial feeding frenzy.”

Two members of the public spoke against the purchase, including park board member Kirk Robinson who said he personally worried the purchase would set a precedent for private interests imposing restrictions on public land.

But council members in favor of the deal felt the new proposal gave the city more assurances. Most importantly the deal allows the city to wait five years before designating the parcel as parkland, meaning it can resell it if its funding plans fall through.

The new proposal was offered with a plan to use grants and surplus land sales to defray the cost of the property.

Unlike landlocked lots, the waterfront on the Williams property makes it eligible for a variety of ecological grants including ones to aid salmon habitat restoration.

Because of availability of these special grants, the Open Space Commission believes the purchase will not limit its ability to pay for land in Winslow and elsewhere.

Combined with the sale of unused city land, the grants could be enough to eventually make the deal a zero net loss. Bob Scales said the sale of surplus land will at least guarantee the city will recoup half of the Williams price.

“We control our land, we can sell that land, and I intend that we make that decision now,” Scales said.

The council gave city staff a Dec. 12 deadline to recommend surplus parcels to be sold. But that’s not likely to happen, said city administrator Mary Jo Briggs.

She said her staff will have to wade through an overwhelming amount of public comment before the decision can be made. Properties on Manitou Beach, Old County Road, and a lot south of Sakai Intermediate School have been mentioned as candidates for the block.

“These people (who live around city land to be sold) will be getting different neighbors than they intended with park space,” Briggs said, adding that this was the kind of council request that “drives us crazy.”

The council’s acceptance of the Williams property proposal was an important victory for the Open Space Commission. It will be the first purchase made since the commission exhausted its original $8 million in bond funds, and big questions were raised about how future open space would be acquired.

“This was a little different from previous proposals,” commission chair Andy Maron said. “It required the city to consider its priorities and find alternative ways of financing.”

The financing of the deal was controversial, but the land’s value as a city asset was not debated.

The parcel will provide the only public access to Manzanita Bay and the only waterfront park on Bainbridge’s western shoreline. It could also be linked by trails to Battle Point Park and Grand Forest.

The William’s property includes three lots, with a single-story home on one site.

In the original deal Samson was to donate a victorian farmhouse on his portion of the Williams property to the city, but that condition was removed to reduce complications. It will now be up to Samson to decide the fate of the building, which once housed the Manzanita School and a library.

The Williams family first approached the Open Space Commission in April about selling the piece to the city. The property too large and expensive for the city to tackle on its own so it contacted several private developers about splitting the deal.

Samson agreed to pursue the property with the city and in August the Open Space Commission brought its first proposal before the council.

Since it began talks with developers the city has drawn criticism for including a private interest in a public open space deal, and Samson was called opportunistic by some.

Samson said he was happy with the council’s final decision and relieved that the process is over.

“It’s been a long summer,” he said. “But a year from now all of this will be forgotten and we’ll have a park there.”

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