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City may acquire strawberry pier property

A proposed land swap could establish a new waterfront park at the head of Eagle Harbor, on land that long served as a strawberry packaging and shipping pier.

“This would be an absolutely wonderful gain for the community,” said Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation Director Terry Lande. “It would be phenomenal if this deal turns out.”

Bainbridge-based Island Senior Community LLC and principal Bill Carruthers purchased the 4.1-acre parcel at the foot of Weaver Road last week; the group has discussed trading it to the city for four acres of city property on Highway 305 bordering the former Bentryn winery.

The no-money trade would be a boon for the park district and residents, Lande said.

The Highway 305 property, known as John Nelson Park, served as a city public works yard for nearly 50 years.

The city recently leased the five-acre plot to the parks district, but Lande would much prefer the strawberry plant property and its 275 feet of shoreline.

Lande said the Nelson Park property is difficult to access, blighted with highway noise and hemmed in by a ravine. Plans to develop it as a park have gone nowhere for want of funding.

Open Space Commission member Dwight Sutton, who has helped broker the proposed deal between the city and Carruthers, agrees the strawberry plant property would be much better for public park use.

He highlighted the waterfront property’s close proximity to downtown, recreational potential, sewer and water connection, vast paved area for parking and wooded area nearby.

Sutton and nearby residents had lobbied the city to purchase the property from its previous owner, Earl Miller of Indianola, and to open it to the public.

When the city balked at the property’s $1.5 million price tag, residents unsuccessfully sought a public/private partnership that would reserve a portion of the property for public use. That two-year effort seemed doomed, Sutton said.

“We shed a little tear and said ‘what a shame,’” he said.

But the group’s spirits are high with Carruther’s proposal to hand over the entire property for public use.

“It’s very exciting,” said architect Charlie Wenzlau, a neighbor who lobbied to turn the property into a park. “It’s a fabulous piece of property on an environmentally sensitive area that lends itself to recreational uses.”

Establishing a waterfront park linked to the city’s trail system was the guiding motivation for acquiring the property, said Carruthers, principal with Island Seniors Community, a limited liability corporation that now holds title to the land.

“I wanted to do this because it’s good for the city,” he said. “I’m an old guy, not a young guy trying to make his fortune. The deal has to make economic sense but also benefits the city.”

The proposed swap would make sense for Carruthers because the Nelson property borders the former Bentryn winery, a property Carruthers and partners recently purchased.

The group would like to build a senior housing complex on the Nelson property, but has pledged to preserve up to an acre for public use.

Car-ruthers cautioned that many factors must be sorted out before his group greenlights the proposal.

They want to conduct environmental and ground stability tests on the Nelson property before formalizing a deal.

Carruthers also wants to hand over the strawberry plant property in a state that won’t burden the city and hinder the land’s development into a park.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said, referring to the possible need to remove the property’s old pilings – remnants of the historic strawberry cannery that burned in a spectacular blaze seven years ago – and repair a crumbling bulkhead.

Gaining the support of John Nelson’s heirs is one more hurdle in transferring the properties. While the Nelson property was donated for park use, at least one heir, Stan Lund, has expressed support for the land swap, according to Open Space Commission chair Andy Maron.

“(Lund) agrees in principle but has not signed up,” Maron said. “We want to accommodate the family’s wishes.”

The city has not yet made a commitment on the matter, but sources said officials strongly favor the deal. Maron speaks of the trade in glowing terms.

“It’s a win for everybody,” he said. “We get a waterfront park but get to keep a small park by the highway. We get the best of both worlds. It’s terrific and, my gosh, it’s at no cost to the city.”

The city, park district and Carruthers will discuss the proposed deal in the coming months and hope to reach an agreement this fall. All parties are committed to the plan, Sutton said.

“It’d be a real triumph for the city if this goes through,” he said.

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