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City dives in, will buy Rockaway parcel

Shallow water met deep pockets, and the city bought itself a park.

The Bainbridge Island City Council Wednesday approved purchase of a half-acre property at the south end of Rockaway Beach Road, the first land to be acquired with $8 million in voter-approved open-space bond money.

While council members blanched at the appraisal price of $585,000, all agreed that the property was too unique to pass up.

“Just look out over the water there, and there’s a quiet peace you find,” said Michael Pollock, council chair.

The price had been negotiated by the Bainbridge Island Land Trust with owner Port Blakely Tree Farms. A purchase option was about to expire, making it imperative that the council decide one way or the other Wednesday.

The Rockaway property includes a brief upland bluff, which gives way to dramatic rock formations and pools exposed at low tide. Council members said they were impressed less by the parcel’s value as shoreline access – 240 feet total – than by the variety and abundance of marine life in the rocky subtidal area.

Purchase was proposed by the Open Space Commission, and was supported by the island’s dive community and several residents of nearby Blakely Harbor.

“It’s such a magnificent, beautiful place,” said Rachel Smith, a Seaborn Road resident. “I hope the wrong thing won’t happen to it. It should be saved.”

The property is actually four building lots, although with setbacks and other restrictions, those would have to be aggregated to two lots for development.

Council members expressed concern over the fact that the deal would consume 7 percent of available open space dollars.

Land trust board member Steph Miller, a key player in the purchase negotiations, said he appreciated their concern, likening the open space process to being “in a candy store with a two-year shopping spree and a $5 budget.”

But Open Space Commission chair Andy Maron said his group would be coming back to the council with an array of properties, including farmland, at more palatable prices.

“This one hits us the hardest,” Councilwoman Christine Nasser Rolfes agreed, “because it’s the first one out of the chute.”

Some council members, though, held out the possibility that some or all of the parcel could be resold in the future, if grant money or other funds to offset the purchase price aren’t found. Bainbridge Park District officials have discussed applying for state grants to support the purchase.

Councilwoman Deborah Vancil said a stewardship program for the yet unnamed park is planned, to protect the grounds and marine life.

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