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Land trust moves to buy pivotal Hill Top parcel

Negotiations are never easy between a land trust dependent on donations and a private landowner who wants a fair price for his property.

But deals can be made when the parties agree that the land shouldn’t be developed, which is the case with the Hill Top Tree Farm, a 31-acre gem that sits smack dab between the east and west parcels of The Grand Forest of Bainbridge.

It took lengthy negotiations with the Hedderly-Smith family, but Bainbridge Island Land Trust now has an option to buy the piece that potentially will make the Grand Forest a contiguous, permanently protected natural area.

The sale price is an estimated $2.75 million – depending on further property surveys and appraisals – for one of the island’s largest and pivotal parcels on the market.

“It took awhile but they got a fair price and good terms,” said David Hedderly-

Smith, who, along with his brother and sister, grew up on the 80 acres his parents purchased in 1951.

“Selling to a land trust is difficult because they have to go out and raise money to honor the option,” said Hedderly-Smith, who lives in Park City, Utah. “It takes a lot of patience and there were times when one side was tempted to walk away. But we hung in there.”

Hedderly-Smith said that while he and his siblings wanted fair value, there were some personal issues to consider.

“The decision really was made to honor the wishes of our mother (Prudence Trudgian), who loved the island and our property,” he said. “And my brother (Bruce, who lives on five acres next to the property)and I liked the idea of it not being developed. And our sister agreed.”

Asha Rehnberg, the land trust’s executive director, said the family was determined to get the full appraised value, “and we agreed to that. So we dug in our heels on other parts of the transaction and it all worked out.”

The land trust will soon embark on a major capital campaign and seek grant money with the goal of closing the deal in November 2011. While the land trust needs to come up with the funding independently, a major component in the deal will be the island’s Metropolitan Park and Recreation District.

The land trust goal is to have the district eventually own and operate the property as it now does the Grand Forest, but the level of the district’s involvement is still undetermined.

The district’s Parkland Acquisition Committee’s (PAC) recommendation is for the district’s initial commitment to include $500,000 from the 2008 levy funds and to seek a matching $500,000 grant from the state. The district’s board will decide at its March 25 meeting whether or not to proceed with the property acquisition.

Cindy Holtz, chair of the PAC, said the plan is for the district to use the $1 million to take ownership of the northern parcel (about 16.46 acres), which includes a seven-acre meadow.

If all goes as planned, the first priority would be a trail connection between the Grand Forest parcels, and perhaps a passive park in the meadow area. But that will be decided by a public process, Rehnberg said.

“It’s exciting because it will be a big coup to have a large band of contiguous forest for islanders and for our wildlife,” she said.

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