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Originally published August 22, 2013 at 8:03 PM | Page modified August 22, 2013 at 9:49 PM

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Conservation panel hears plans to preserve Snohomish County land

A Snohomish County advisory council is listening to $34 million in proposals in competition for $25 million in public money to preserve open space, agricultural or timber lands.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A developer wants to build 70 houses on 13 acres now covered with cedar, fir and maple. For years, the neighbors have tried to have the area close to bustling Lynnwood annexed to Meadowdale County Park so it remains in its natural state.

In Mukilteo, Stanwood and other cities, there are similar stories — large parcels of undeveloped property in urban-growth areas that are destined for development unless purchased as designated open space or a park.

This week, the Snohomish County Conservation Futures advisory council began listening to $34 million in proposals from cities, the nonprofit conservation group Forterra, and the Snohomish County Parks Department, all competing for $25 million in public money.

Made possible by Snohomish County’s recent bond sales, backed by property taxes, Conservation Futures is designated for preserving open space, agricultural or timber property.

The recent Snohomish County presentations began Tuesday at the Willis Tucker Community Park’s Vista Conference Room in Snohomish. Friday’s concluding presentations will begin at 4 p.m., and then the council will meet to prioritize the projects.

Tom Tiegen, Snohomish County Parks and Recreation director, said it’s likely not all of the projects will be decided that evening. Once the list is finalized, it will go to the Snohomish County Council for approval.

Conservation Futures Funding got its start in the state in 1971 under the leadership of Gov. Dan Evans. The state Legislature declared citizens had a “fundamental and inalienable right” to a healthy environment.

In 1984, the Legislature approved a bill allowing counties to set up a fund from property taxes specifically for the purpose of preserving open space, farmland or wooded acreage.

In Snohomish County, Lynnwood’s proposal is the most costly — purchasing Seabrook Heights, in Lynnwood’s future annexation area, for $7 million. On Tuesday, a group of more than 30 citizens belonging to the Citizens for a Greater Norma Beach Neighborhood gathered at the meeting to lobby for the purchase.

“It’s nice to expand that bit of nature among us,’’ said David Allais, president of the Greater Norma Beach group. “It’s just kind of nice not to build up the whole place.’’

While the group says the land would be an ideal addition to the park and provide hiking trails and perhaps camping space, supporters emphasize the area’s slide-prone reputation makes it unsuitable for the planned development.

Barb Ingram, a member of the group, has documented slides in the park next door since the 1990s. Even without development, slides have wiped out a hiking trail, tipped portable outhouses and damaged Lund’s Creek as a fish habitat, she said. Lynnwood officials used her photos in their presentation to the council Tuesday.

The group has opposed a would-be developer, David Beck’s West View Real Estate, since 2006 when plans for the development first emerged. In the midst of the struggle, the Conservation Futures funding came up. It seemed like the ideal solution, and Beck says he would consider an offer from Lynnwood.

Like the Seabrook Heights proposal, the others brought before the council also have arguments in their favor.

In Mukilteo, the city, with assistance from Forterra, is making a bid to buy 98 acres in what is called Japanese Gulch, an area popular with mountain bikers and named for the people who once settled there. The parcel is zoned light industrial and is destined for development if the city does not get $2.5 million, according to the application.

In some cases, cities might be granted partial funding and have to get the remainder of the money from other sources, according to the staff of the advisory council.

In Stanwood, the city would like to purchase for an estimated $2.3 million the 15-acre Ovenell Dairy Farm where the Stillaguamish River empties into Port Susan Bay and Skagit Bay. It’s in the city’s urban-growth area and zoned commercial. Buying it would preserve it, said city administrator Deborah Knight.

“The property is pretty unique. It has the former barn, milking shed, farmhouse and our long-term plan is to do ... a small education center and conference center,’’ Knight said. It has waterfront, and “We’d also be able to ensure the estuary habitat there would continue to thrive.’’

Other properties under consideration for Conservation Futures money include a nine-acre tract called Deer Creek Park next to the watershed in Woodway, for $3.5 million, and $2.7 million for a golf course and other properties adjoining the county’s Flowing Lake Park.

In King County, 111,000 acres of land, including forests, shorelines, greenways and trails, have been preserved under the Conservation Futures program, say officials.

Snohomish County lists its Conservation Futures acquisitions as totaling $80 million since the program began in the county in 1988.

The acquisitions, Tiegen said, are a chance for the county to make priceless additions that will benefit “our grandchildren’s grandchildren.’’

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522

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