Port Townsend City Council: Property purchase should protect forest

Agreement would be to acquire 9 acres near City Lake

PORT TOWNSEND — The city is considering the purchase of a parcel of private land near City Lake, but City Council members want to ensure the associated forest is preserved.

The Port Townsend City Council heard a proposal last week that would acquire 9.42 acres for the water utility as an additional buffer for the protection of the watershed.

The land on Grouse Lane is bounded on three sides by city property, said Greg Lanning, the city’s public works director. It’s now owned by Kathleen and Robert Francis, who purchased it in the mid-1960s and built a cabin.

The city considered a proposal for $220,000 on Sept. 3, with $100,000 due at closing and the balance to be paid in six annual payments of $20,000 with interest, according to city documents.

The Francises, reached Friday by telephone, said they didn’t want to comment because the transaction hasn’t been finalized.

Lanning said the property has meant a lot to them.

“As a result, they’ve been very good neighbors to us as well,” he said.

Council member Michelle Sandoval said she wanted to include a way to ensure the timber isn’t harvested in the future.

“It seems appropriate there would be a restriction,” she said. “It’s a strong suggestion, even if it was part of our pitch for why we were going to buy this, it would seem to make sense.”

The property has a 30-foot road right of way across the southeast half of the parcel, according to city documents.

The agenda bill said the Francises have treasured their quiet piece of mature forest land.

“Now, as they are faced with making decisions about their estate, they have offered the city the opportunity to purchase the property for below the appraised value in order to help preserve it and protect the municipal watershed,” the document said.

Lanning said it’s a square piece of property that sits 230 feet at its nearest point to the lake. He added the appraisal the city received was for $290,000, including the value of the timber.

“Knowing it wouldn’t be harvested was really important to them,” he said.

That language didn’t appear in the purchase and sale agreement, and Sandoval said she wanted some type of designation so a City Council 20 years from now wouldn’t have questions about the intent of the transaction.

“Recessions come and go, and cities look for money wherever they can find it,” she said.

City Attorney Heidi Greenwood said there might be a time when the city could sell a conservation easement, but she wanted to perform additional research on available options.

“We’re looking for the right mechanism to do it so it can be upheld,” interim City Manager Nora Mitchell said Friday.

Lanning said the property does not drain to the lake, but it’s a high-priority acquisition because of uncertain future development and its proximity to the reservoir that provides the city’s drinking water.

The funds would come from the water utility, Mitchell said.

Council member Bob Gray asked about the cabin and whether it is occupied.

“It’s the true definition of a cabin,” Lanning said. “It’s very much in disrepair and probably not salvageable.”

Council directed staff to investigate the process of putting in a deed restriction to prevent logging and to bring the item back for discussion Monday, Sept. 16.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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