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Preservation plan builds for Wood Creek forest

EVERETT — A nearly hundred-acre woody watershed once seen as at-risk to development could be protected for its long-term future.
The site in question is land on the edge of the Valley View neighborhood, nestled east of Interstate 5, known as Wood Creek. It’s owned by the city utility system, and earlier this year by an order from Mayor Cassie Franklin, the city withdrew a plan to surplus the land on the open market after neighbors pleaded a case against the dangers of developing here.
Since then, a group of residents has worked with government officials, including Deputy Mayor Nick Harper and City Councilman Paul Roberts, to pursue an agreeable gameplan.
Keeping the forest as-is is what the homegrown group “Stewards of Wood Creek Everett” would love to see happen.
“We are not a housing-opposition group, but we are concerned about the preservation of the land,” said group member Paul Benz, who lives a street away from the ridge.
The city is talking with the nonprofit land conservation agency Forterra. It’s not clear how far along these talks are, but three neighbors told a reporter that Harper told them at a July neighborhood meeting that the city is interested in formalizing an agreement with the nonprofit.
For the goal of preservation, a different strategy could involve a phased ownership transition to effectively surplus the property, according to a recent internal email Harper wrote outlining the plan for Wood Creek.
Resident Erika Rominger and fellow neighbors solicited every environmental group they could think of to ask for help with saving Wood Creek. Some gave advice. Forterra latched on to the project, Rominger said.
“We’re feeling good right now with our conversations with Forterra,” Benz said.
Rominger’s husband Tim Long said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about where talks are going. “We definitely feel better” compared to when the site was slated to be discarded by the city as surplus.
A city spokeswoman did not respond by deadline to confirm if the city is negotiating with Forterra. A Forterra spokeswoman declined to comment nor confirm if it is negotiating with the city.
Neighbors have multiple reasons why they are against development.
The ecosystem of the forest is one. Density is another: More houses could produce much more traffic on the two-lane bridge, built in 1966, that crosses Interstate 5 to reach Valley View.
It’s the landslide risk that haunts neighbors the most. They saw it happen: A few homes along Panaview Boulevard and Burl Place slid off the hill about eight years ago, and others at risk were red-tagged. Homeowners sued the city, saying an enlarged storm drain project created the erosion.
One of the areas in question is around the corner to where the Panaview slides happened. City-created signs posted around the neighborhood implied the upland area, including this spot, has development opportunities. A city email says it is zoned for residential use.
“The soil is of such sensitivity,” Benz said, adding, “Why would the city want to enter this risk?”
Long said the next logical step would likely be a geotechnical engineering report to understand more about the site and how much is actually developable.
The Wood Creek greenbelt is owned by the city’s utility system. The Save Wood Creek group says the creek was the main source of drinking water until 1916 when a different water project was completed.
An appraiser valued the forest land at $3 million. The city wants to gather a “true fair market value” of the land, Harper’s email says.
Any change in ownership would need to make the city and the city utility system whole.
Long suggested one concept could be to designate the forest as a “mitigation bank” offset site, a system where developers can buy onto a property to offset impacts elsewhere.
Enacting a plan will take time. “Having been involved in a number of conservation transactions I will say that determining a realistic timeline for this project will take time, so I appreciate your patience; however, with the partnerships we have and continue to forge, I am very optimistic that we will reach an outcome that is mutually beneficial for our community, our City and our Utility, and the resources at Wood Creek,” Harper concluded in an August written update to the City Council. He’d know: Before joining the city administration, and a stint in the State Senate, Harper was Forterra’s Snohomish County Conservation Director.
Mayor Franklin, five City Council members and County Councilwoman Megan Dunn have all toured the site soon after neighbors fought the sale. “The city listened to its constituents” by taking a step back about this land, Long applauded. The five other properties the City Council approved for surplus in June were mostly smaller pieces scattered around town; one was the historic Culmback Building downtown.
The neighborhood group held its most recent meeting on Sept. 12. Its website with future dates and further information is www.savewoodcreek.org

  

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