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City Council approves agreement for Chuckanut Ridge purchase

Fairhaven Highlands

The Bellingham City Council took action tonight to purchase Chuckanut Ridge, approving a deal crafted by Mayor Dan Pike that positions the City to add the property to its Greenways portfolio before the end of September 2011.

This purchase, when complete, concludes nearly 20 years of debate about the fate of Chuckanut Ridge, adds significant recreation land and open space within Bellingham city limits, and provides an essential link between Fairhaven Park and the Interurban Trail.

The City Council voted unanimously tonight (August 15, 2011) to authorize the Mayor to enter into a purchase and sale agreement to purchase the property for $8.23 million from Washington Federal. According to the agreement, the deal is expected to close on or before September 29, 2011. The purchase will be funded by voter-approved Greenways funding and parks impact fees, with no general fund support.

"This is an historic moment, and a great deal all the way around for the entire community," Pike said. "Securing public ownership of this property meets our commitment to protecting natural green settings and access to open space, providing parks and trails city wide, and preserving neighborhood character."

Chuckanut Ridge, also known as Fairhaven Highlands, is one of the last large, wooded properties remaining within City limits. Purchase of portions of the property was an idea included in both the Beyond Greenway levy (1997) and the Greenway 3 levy (2006). The purchase of all or portions of Chuckanut Ridge is supported by the Greenway Advisory Committee and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

The economic downturn and the failure of Horizon Bank in January 2010 put the property within the financial reach of the City. Greenbriar Northwest Associates paid approximately $16 million for the property in 2004, and later – near the height of the real estate boom – offered to sell it to the City for $26 million.

However, an appraisal conducted in 2010 placed the property value at $8.87 million. The current assessed value of the property, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office, is $11.7 million.

The agreement Pike proposed and the Council approved tonight includes paying for the purchase with $4.5 million in Greenways 3 acquisition funding, approved by voters in 2006; $500,000 from parks impact fees collected on the southside; and a loan of approximately $3.23 million from the Greenways endowment fund.

Pike said that throughout the many legal steps and negotiations required to arrive at this point, he has focused on getting this property into public ownership to protect it today and steward it for future generations. He said he particularly appreciates Washington Federal's support and partnership in the City's efforts to acquire the property for public benefit.

Tom Kenney, Senior Vice President for Washington Federal and the bank's Regional Executive in Northern Washington, echoed Pike's words. "Washington Federal is very pleased to have played a role in helping the people of Bellingham secure this beautiful property as protected public space," he said. "We appreciate the patience and support of those who worked with us during this lengthy process."

Washington Federal acquired a portfolio of Horizon Bank loans when Horizon failed in January 2010, including a loan made to Greenbriar Northwest Associates LLC secured by a deed of trust on the Chuckanut Ridge property. The bank commenced a non-judicial foreclosure at a trustee sale, resulting in Washington Federal acquiring title to the property last month.

The property identified in the purchase and sale agreement is approximately 82 undeveloped acres located in the South Neighborhood within Bellingham city limits, between Chuckanut Drive, the Interurban Trail, Old Fairhaven Parkway and Old Samish Highway.

The property is commonly known as Chuckanut Ridge, the 100-Acre Woods or Fairhaven Highlands. Fairhaven Highlands is the name of a 739-unit housing development proposed on the property in 2005 by Greenbriar Northwest Associates LLC. Application for this proposed development and the public process surrounding it has been on-going since that time, provoking significant community debate.

Bellingham City Council President Stan Snapp said adding this property to Greenways is the realization of a long-time dream.

"This is the realization of a long-time community dream for those of us who have been involved with Greenways since the early 1990s," Snapp said. "This purchase will secure public access to a property that has been enjoyed by Bellingham residents for decades. It will allow us to provide increased recreation and open space to the whole community, and better trail connections for nearby neighborhoods."

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Date Published: Aug 16, 2011

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