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Grant could give city what it needs to make gulch offer
MUKILTEO - The city is poised to make an offer on the last privately held piece of Japanese Gulch if a $2.5 million land grant request to Snohomish County comes through.
Mayor Joe Marine made the revelation during a special tour the Tribune was given in the Metropolitan Trust piece of Japanese Gulch. The 98-acre piece, held by a bankruptcy court, is the biggest piece of gulch property the city doesn’t own.
Combined with other grants, the $2.5 million would increase the city’s stash to $4.8 million, which “gives me something to play with” for negotiating an offer, Marine said last week.
The City Council would have to authorize the mayor to make an offer.
The city applied for the grant with the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Fund. Board members are expected to make a recommendation in late August. The recommendations on 29 grant applications go before the Snohomish County Council for final approval in mid-September.
The seller’s appraisal price is often publicly quoted at $6.3 million. The city has hired an independent appraiser.
Councilman Richard Emery said last week he thinks the court has “an exaggerated view” of what the gulch piece is worth.
The last piece of the gulch is well-used by people looking to challenge the terrain. Despite being private property, there are no real barriers to exploring the property except for one or two “no trespassing signs” posted on trees at the entrances. The two entry points are from the corner of 44th Place West and 76th Street and from the backside of the Mukilteo Tails and Trails Dog Park off Fifth Street (W. Mukilteo Boulevard when coming from Everett).
Marine, Emery and Japanese Gulch Group president Arnie Hammerman led the Tribune’s tour last week with permission from the bankruptcy court.
Inside the gulch, trees line miles of trails and the temperature drops by 5 degrees. People familiar with the gulch say the cedars, Douglas firs and alders are second-growth.
Most of the trails are walkable for the average person.
Shawn O’Donnell, who owns a restaurant in Everett, said the Metropolitan piece provides some of the best mountain biking in Western Washington. O’Donnell was out riding with three friends last week.
“It’s amazing, there’s probably an eight-mile loop we take in here,” O’Donnell said.
If the city can buy the land, the plan is to keep it natural. Some trails may be improved to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, but that’s as far as the city envisions altering the landscape.
“From the city’s aspect, we need to make sure there are no glaring, dangerous areas … but beyond that, why mess with it?” Marine said.
Some people are using the gulch for sport. In one area, there are oversized bike jumps. In some trees nearby, someone set up sniper posts for either paintball or pellet gun shooting. Plastic pellets lay on the ground nearby.
People started building trails 30 years ago when they saw the land was open, Emery said.
The open space is why city leaders want to preserve it. The rub is that residents publicly say they don’t want to increase their own property taxes to buy the land when they say the gulch attracts regional interest.
A ballot measure last November asking residents to bankroll a $3.2 million bond got 58 percent of the vote, but failed to get the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass.
With county grant funds and a recent $1 million grant from the state Legislature, Marine pointed out that the region is paying for the gulch.
If the purchase goes through for $4.8 million or less, then less than $300,000 in earmarked city funds would be used for the purchase. The city hired nonprofit Forterra to help it negotiate a deal and would get a commission.
The Japanese Gulch Group is promising to take care of the property. Hammerman said it shouldn’t cost the city much to maintain the land.
Volunteers currently make sure there’s no trash on the ground.
The property is located in Everett city limits and is zoned for industrial uses. A jumbo jet that took off from Paine Field next door exemplifies why the land can’t be used for residential.
Because of its wetlands and big slopes, the land would be hard to develop, Hammerman said. But on the other hand, Hammerman also warned the longer the city waits to buy the gulch, the more likely a developer could buy it.
In the past decade, two developers looked to buy the property but came up short. Before the real estate market crashed, a developer from Auburn was rumored to have offered $7 million for the land.
The interest in the land catalyzed residents to form the Japanese Gulch Group in 2007, Emery said.
The city has already received $800,000 from the county Conservation Futures Fund. Marine thinks Mukilteo’s got a good shot at the $2.5 million and is confident the city will own the Metropolitan Trust property by the end of the year.

 

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