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Land sales could solve Gazzam Lake dispute

A possible solution is being forged that could end ongoing litigation between landowners in the area of Gazzam Lake Park.

The dispute arose when owners of seven parcels near the park’s western border began pushing for recognition of a public access easement from their properties to Marshall Road. The easement would transect the park as well as a small portion of land owned by Walt McGraw. McGraw opposed the easement and organized a “Save Gazzam” campaign.

The landowners filed suit against the McGraw family in 2008. A judge denied requests for summary judgment and future court hearings have not been set.

In the meantime, both sides are considering a compromise. The proposed solution? Sell the properties.

Nearly all the properties owned by the plaintiffs have been nominated for possible purchase by the Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District’s Parkland Acquisition Committee. The nominations were made by McGraw, but already five of the plaintiffs have signed a letter supporting the move.

“This is one of those rare times when it could be a win-win-win,” said Randall Olsen, an attorney with Buck Law Group representing McGraw. “It would be a win for the McGraws, a win for the plaintiffs and it would be a win for the parks and the greater Bainbridge Island community.”

The plaintiffs might benefit by getting market value for their properties, rather than continuing the legal battle for an access road. Landowner Robert Leigh said the plaintiffs have been looking for a compromise all along.

“The collective intent of all the parties is to realize some value from our properties,” Leigh said.

The park district could benefit by adding several properties to the west side of the park. But it’s too soon to know whether the PAC will be interested in the purchase.

The citizen committee is advising the park district board on what properties to buy using money from a recently passed lid-lift measure. It ended its call for property nominations at the end of June and received about 70 applications (see story, page A3).

The PAC has $875,000 to work with this year, but unspent money will roll over to the next year. Most of the eight Gazzam properties nominated have assessed values in the range of $100,000 to $150,000, according to the Kitsap County Assessor’s website.

The PAC won’t begin evaluating individual properties until August but the properties would expand an existing park, which would fit one of the PAC’s five priorities for acquisitions.

Leigh said he and other landowners are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Certainly it’s very early on in the process,” he said. “We have no idea whether the Parkland Acquisition Committee will have interest in our properties.”

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