After years of efforts to preserve undeveloped land known as LBA Woods, Olympia officials are in talks to purchase a 74-acre parcel of the property known as Trillium.
The Olympia City Council will decide Tuesday night whether to approve a purchase option, which would allow the city to buy the southeast Olympia property for $5 million. The parcel, located on Morse-Merryman Road, is currently owned by the homebuilder D.R. Horton, which had proposed a development there called Ashton Woods.
Parks, Arts & Recreation director Paul Simmons said community interest in the property has made the Trillium property a priority for the department. In a series of community meetings, residents overwhelmingly told city officials that they would like the property to be added to the adjacent LBA Park.
“Considering that this property could be lost to development, we didn’t want to wait,” Simmons said. “This action preserves the opportunity to make this a city park. If we didn’t move forward now, there's a chance that we could lose this opportunity.”
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LBA Park is a 22.6-acre athletic park at 3333 Morse-Merryman Road SE. The initials stand for Little Baseball Association, a youth league that donated the land to the city in 1974.
Olympia residents have been working for years to preserve the surrounding woodlands, forming the Save LBA Woods Coalition about two years ago. Brian Faller, a coalition board member, said preserving the area is important because it’s one of the last large, wooded parcels within Olympia’s urban growth area.
“We’re very pleased by the option,” Faller said. “We think it is a fantastic and critical step toward acquiring the forest. And we applaud the city and D.R. Horton for their support of this important community asset.”
The city doesn’t currently have plans for purchasing the 72-acre Bentridge property, a portion of the LBA Woods located off of Boulevard Road.
Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he believes the council will be “supportive” of the Trillium deal.
“We’ve heard loud and clear the public interest in preserving open spaces in the city,” Buxbaum said.
But Simmons made clear that the Tuesday council vote won’t decide whether the city will actually purchase the land. Council members will instead decide whether to pay D.R. Horton $250,000 to preserve the land until the city can come up with funding to purchase Trillium.
Under the purchase option, the city would be able to buy the land for $5 million before June 30, 2016.
If officials haven’t come up with the full amount by then, they can extend the purchase option for another year for an additional $250,000. Then officials will have the opportunity to buy the land for $6 million before June 30, 2017.
Under the purchase option, D.R. Horton would still be able to move forward with the platting process for the subdivision in case the city doesn’t decide to buy the land, Simmons said.
Councilman Jim Cooper said funding to actually purchase the park would come from the creation of a new taxing district, the Olympia Metropolitan Parks District. If the council approves creation of the district, the measure will go to Olympia voters in November for final approval.
“If we approve the Metro Parks District, we should be able to cover our costs,” Cooper said. “I’m definitely hopeful that this will go forward. This is something that people really seem to want.”
Funding to expand the LBA Woods Park could also come from a proposed utility tax increase, Simmons said.
The purchase would be well worth the money, Faller said. The area is already rich with wide, flat trails that people use to walk their dogs or spend time with friends.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Faller said. “This is one of the most pleasant and interesting places (to walk).”