The Olympia City Council has unanimously approved a purchase option for 74 acres of undeveloped land next to LBA Park in southeast Olympia.
The key word is “option.” The deal allows the city to hold the land — known as the Trillium property — for $250,000 for future acquisition. The city has until June 30, 2016, to buy the site for $5 million.
If the city can’t come up with the money by then, the purchase option can be extended another year for $250,000 with one last opportunity to buy the land for $6 million by June 30, 2017.
The council’s decision drew applause from about a dozen people who attended Tuesday’s meeting. For years, some Olympia residents have pushed to preserve two wooded areas near the LBA Park on Morse-Merryman Road — the Trillium property to the east, and the Bentridge property to the south. This effort eventually spawned the LBA Woods Park Coalition to help make it happen. The city has no plans to buy the 72-acre Bentridge property.
In the meantime, property owner D.R. Horton will still pursue the platting process for Trillium to be prepared to build a 400-lot housing development called Ashton Woods in case the deal with the city falls through.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Parks Director Paul Simmons noted the intense public demand for acquiring some or all of the area known as LBA Woods.
“This was the most dominant theme during our park planning process,” said Simmons, referring to a series of public meetings and surveys earlier this year that sought feedback on the city’s park system. “If we don’t act now, it will likely be developed in the very near future.”
The purchase would provide opportunities for trails and an athletic field on the site, but there is a strong interest in keeping as much undeveloped as possible, Simmons said. He added that any park development would undergo an extensive public process.
Several council members noted the impact the purchase will have on future generations if the deal comes to fruition.
“This will bring the city forward in the promises we made in the past,” Councilman Steve Langer said. He referred to a 3 percent tax increase that was passed by voters in 2004 to help buy 500 acres of new park land. Since then, the city has purchased 63 acres of park land.
The first priority is finding the money. City officials expect to pay the remaining balance with money from a proposed Metropolitan Parks District and the 2004 Voted Utility Tax. Simmons said the city also will search for grants to help cover the cost.
Not everyone at Tuesday’s meeting supported the purchase option. Olympia resident Donn Lawrence questioned whether the purchase was a “wise and prudent” use of taxpayer dollars. He recalled a consultant’s report that was issued last fall regarding five potential park sites. The consultant concluded that a park at either site near LBA Park would result in losing a significant portion of wooded areas.
Brian Faller, a member of the LBA Woods Park Coalition, acknowledged that the site isn’t suited for a sports field, but praised the process for its preservation purposes.
“LBA Woods is about the woods,” he said.