Golf course lease to be considered

Port Townsend City Council on verge of new pact

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council appears ready to approve a new lease concerning the city’s golf course, capping off more than a year of sometimes-strained debate over the future of the property.

Council members Monday reviewed a proposed lease for the 58-acre property, which would be taken over by a new nonprofit group, the Friends of the Port Townsend Golf Park, for two decades if certain provisions are met.

“(The Friends) have done a lot of heavy lifting with establishing their nonprofit and their board,” said Carrie Hite, Port Townsend director of Parks and Recreation Strategy. ”(They’re) really trying to change the culture of the golf course and open it up to extra public uses.”

In late 2022, the city began looking at alternative options for the financially struggling course and hired Seattle landscape architecture firm Groundswell to design alternative concepts for the site. Several public meetings were held with tensions often flaring over the various proposals and some claiming the city had already made up its mind to wholly repurpose the property away from golf.

But golf supporters rallied. A new 501(c)(3) nonprofit group was formed and offered to take over management of the course and incorporate several new amenities desired by the city and other constituents.

On Monday, council members reviewed a lease for the property that would have the Friends working in phases to implement the new features like a playground and walking trails while still retaining a nine-hole golf course.

The proposed lease would have the Friends take over the course rent-free for two years while the organization develops a business plan before renegotiating terms to run the course for another 20 years.

“The two-plus-20 years is really needed,” said Bob Wheeler, president of the Friends’ board of directors. “If we’re going to get major donations, which we need, that takes time.”

The Friends will work with the city to install a new playground — a site for which is still to be determined — as well as an amphitheater on the course’s driving range. The city and the Friends also are looking for sites to potentially relocate the bicycle nonprofit The Recyclery to the property.

In addition to traditional golf, the Friends want to expand the use of the course to incorporate disc golf and foot golf — golf with a soccer ball — to attract more users to the site.

Part of the agreement includes a provision for environmental sustainability, with the Friends committing to using less water, more organic pesticides and installing more native plants. The city will help clear excess brush across the property and cut walking trails to be accessible to the public.

While council members were mostly supportive of the provisions within the lease, there were some concerns members said they’d like to see addressed before fully approving the agreement.

Council members Libby Urner Wennstrom and Aislinn Palmer said they wanted to see a 1-acre dog park incorporated somewhere into the plan, and Wennstrom said she’d like to see more metrics on increased public access built into the agreement.

But perhaps the largest request from the city was a more definite plan for incorporating an affordable housing project onto the site. The city has been trying to expand its housing stock and, during public feedback sessions, housing emerged as a public priority when alternative uses were considered.

A portion of the property along Blaine Street without deed restrictions has been identified as the most likely location for such a project, but that would require relocating at least two of the course’s holes.

“What I want to see a specific provision defining what the premises will look like when the city reverts portions of the property to city management,” Mayor David Faber said. “What that looks like in terms of moving holes five and six, I think that needs to be defined in the contract.”

A revised lease will be brought before the council at next week’s meeting, the council’s last of the year.

The course’s current lease expires at the end of the year, but Hite said it would be possible for the Friends to take over management of the course under the current lease’s terms if the new lease is not approved next week.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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