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Will tide carry Manzanita park?

Open Space Commissioner Cyndy Holtz on the shore of Manzanita Bay, space that could one day become a public park.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Open Space Commissioner Cyndy Holtz on the shore of Manzanita Bay, space that could one day become a public park.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Some question the fairness of buying land elsewhere when Winslow has needs.

At the end of a straight-shot gravel road, a grassy hillside swoops toward Manzanita Bay.

For kayakers, it could be a place to push off. For historians, who would be drawn to a house built on the land in 1895, it could be a place to reflect. Even for revelers, who could one day find there a place to host events, the site holds both beauty and promise.

None of that is being disputed as the Open Space Commission prepares to recommend that the city purchase the 1.8-acre waterfront parcel.

Questionable to some, though, is what the potential purchase could mean to future open space purchases elsewhere.

“It’s not that this isn’t a fabulous piece of property,” said Neil Johannsen, who’s spearheading a campaign to provide more parkland in Winslow. “My fear is that if the City Council says yes to this, they will draw a very deep line in the sand and not purchase any more open space until there’s another open space bond.”

With no such bond on the horizon, Johannsen said that spells trouble for Winslow, which the city already has acknowledged lacks parkland.

Open Space Commission members agree that Winslow could use a boost of green. They just don’t think it has to be an either/or proposition, which is why they voted nearly unanimously to recommend the $1.4 million purchase of a portion of the 14-acre “Williams Property.”

That price, already agreed upon by the property owners, is $300,000 below the appraised value of the land.

The proposal will go before the Bainbridge City Council for consideration at its next meeting.

Because an earlier $8 million open space bond already has been exhausted, the funds might have to come via “councilmanic” bonds – approved by vote of the City Council – rather than publicly approved money.

Along with the main parcel, the purchase would include 5.2 acres of tideland and a 1.7 acre easement, for a total acquisition of 8.7 acres.

The deal includes several covenants, among them that the land be dedicated for public use in perpetuity, and be named “Williams-Olson Park.”

It also places a height limit on any new trees that would be planted on a portion of the property, and allows for tree-pruning on that same portion by the adjacent landowner, who is buying the remainder of the land.

Kelly Samson of Samson Family Land Company got involved in the deal earlier this year after the Williams family approached the Open Space Commission about purchasing the entire 14-acre property.

Thinking the $5 million price was more than the city could afford, and because the sale timeline was too fast – the family wanted to close this summer – the OSC negotiated to purchase part of the property, with the remainder to be purchased by Samson.

As part of the agreement, nine existing parcels at the south end of the property would eventually be developed. Samson agreed to sell the 1.7 acre easement and donate the historic home – which would need to be moved – to the city.

A second 1970s-era house on the property would be preserved and likely used to house a caretaker for the new park.

A boundary line adjustment could eventually pave the way for a private dock at the north end of the park.

“That’s 70 feet,” said Open Space Commissioner Cyndy Holtz, of the part of the shoreline that would be closed to the public. “We would get 311 feet of very usable, functional beach.”

The OSC has long searched for public waterfront parkland on the west side of the island, where such land is scarce.

Money also will be needed for potential park purchases in Winslow, but Open Space Commissioner Andy Maron said he hopes grant money could be factored in at some point.

“You wouldn’t believe how much time we have spent trying to buy Winslow properties,” he said. “It is a high priority for us, but we can’t force someone to sell to the city.”

Maron said questions about funding for future open space purchases are fair, but that’s not the most pressing concern.

“The question is should we take this one-in-120-year opportunity to buy a portion of this property on Manzanita Bay,” he said. “I say yes.”

Others are concerned with the tree-height restrictions. To protect views, the covenants say any new trees planted in a small area of the parcel could not exceed 12 feet; elsewhere on the property new trees couldn’t exceed 30 feet.

They also allow for tree-pruning by neighboring property owners, though the trimming would be subject to standard regulation.

“It’s not like they could just go out and cut down anything they want,” Holtz said. “The main restrictions would be in a spot where we would probably put parking anyway.”

The forested hillside would not be impacted because it lies within a shoreline buffer.

There would be no tree height restrictions in the easement, which now is home to a wooded ravine and a creek that drains into the bay.

Sally Adams wondered why the city would spend $300,000 to purchase an easement that the property owner “can’t build on anyway.” She also questioned whether the out-of-the-way park would get much use by anyone other than neighbors.

“It sounds like the city is in the position of making a private park for these expensive homes,” she said. “I have major concerns about how property acquisitions are done in this city.”

Holtz said that under the circumstances the only way to preserve any of the land for public use is through the deal.

“If it weren’t for this agreement, the whole 14 acres would have been developed as homes,” she said. “This was the first time a piece of land like this has been available and I doubt another one like it will be again.”

Community Events, April 2014

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