Council agrees to land swap

Gain a prime piece of Eagle Harbor shoreline for a forgotten backwater lot. City Council members laughed at the notion they wouldn’t unanimously approve such a swap.

“This is one of those rubber-stamp opportunities,” joked Councilwoman Christine Rolfes before the council approved trading four-fifths of John Nelson Park for the strawberry plant property at the foot of Weaver Road.

The city had its eye on the property for years, waiting for the opportunity to transform the 4.1-acre parcel into a public park. The property housed a strawberry cannery until the 1940s, with a pier that stretched from the harbor’s north shore.

The land served a variety of uses after World War II, including gravel and sand processing, boat building, housing and the base for a fishing tackle company. In 1997 a newly constructed office burned down, leaving the property vacant until local developer Bill Carruthers purchased the $1.5 million property in August.

Carruthers planned to exchange it for the city’s five-acre Nelson property on Highway 305, near the former Bentryn winery. The no-money trade gives the city a sought-after waterfront park for a parcel the city hasn’t gotten around to developing for public use in over 50 years.

“It’s a tremendously good opportunity,” said Open Space Commission member Dwight Sutton. “The community is much the richer for this.”

The commission brokered the deal, but Sutton credited Carruthers for proposing the idea.

“We just happened to be loitering in the wrong place at the right time. (Carruthers) just happened to drop it in front of us,” he said.

Carruthers plans to develop the former winery and the adjacent Nelson property into a senior housing complex, but has agreed to retain one acre of the parcel as a public park.

“This benefits everyone equally,” Carruthers said. “It isn’t frequent that plans like these come to fruition.”

Carruthers said the island will also benefit from a new senior housing facility marketed at “affordable” rates.

The Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District voted last week to relinquish its 99-year lease on the Nelson property, enabling the city to trade it Wednesday.

The property had served primarily as a public works yard after it was donated by John Nelson a half-century ago.

Nelson’s heirs, who maintained interest in seeing the property used as a park, approved the exchange. Sutton praised their flexibility and generosity.

“The opportunity has tremendous merit (and) will serve a wide range of interests,” he said.

The park district will take over the management and development of the strawberry plant property once an agreement between the city and Carruthers is ratified.

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