Olympia wise to buy berry farm for park

The city of Olympia is considering buying land leased to Spooner Berry Farms along Yelm Highway Southeast to turn into a city park.
The city of Olympia is considering buying land leased to Spooner Berry Farms along Yelm Highway Southeast to turn into a city park. toverman@theolympian.com

Parcels large enough for regional parks are not going to be available forever in South Sound.

That is why the Olympia City Council should move quickly to purchase an 83-acre plot along Yelm Highway for potential athletic fields.

The site in question was long talked about as a potential purchase when the city was drafting a parks-tax ballot measure in 2015, which voters passed.

The price tag of about $10.7 million is in line with the 2015 estimate of more than $12 million.

Though we share concerns about disappearing farm land, the city could purchase the land, which now is leased to Spooner Berry Farms, and then lease it for berry-growing until the city is ready to develop athletic fields in around 2024.

Sue Spooner of the berry-farming family told The Olympian they have always known the parcel, owned by the Zahn family at 3323 Yelm Highway, could be sold.

Olympia has made several other land purchases for parks in recent years, raising the total acreage purchased since a 2004 ballot measure to almost 440 — counting this farm purchase.

The ballot measure 14 years ago promised 500 acres of open space, which the city fell woefully short of achieving. Early opponents of a 2015 parks measure were quick to point out the city’s lack of follow-through.

But the global Great Recession a decade ago forced many levels of government to tighten belts, which in Olympia that meant a diversion of utility tax funds approved by voters in 2004. Some of that money was used to maintain park operations and for other expenses.

That is why in 2015 the second parks levy was intentionally imbedded into a new city Metropolitan Parks District, which is authorized to use the new revenues only for maintenance, land acquisitions and park improvements.

Lacey and Tumwater are now looking to follow suit. Both cities are putting metropolitan parks measures on the Nov. 7 ballot.

This is not to say that Olympia must buy any land that comes available. It’s already purchased woodlands near the LBA Park off Boulevard Road and also land near Ken Lake on the southwest side of town.

But it passed up a downtown isthmus parcel where the Views on 5th high-rise project is under way.

The council has a plan adopted in 2016 and must follow through on promises. Years back it bought land between Yelm Highway and Ward Lake for possible public swimming access, but that project was put on hold.

It turned out that disabled-access along a steep slope would be too expensive to build.

As they move ahead to buy the berry farm plot, city leaders should take time to explain carefully how their plans for parks are on track. They should identify their priorities for other city purchases.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was updated to fix a typo in the first paragraph.