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UPDATE | Hunting group says it wants property as port mulls offers on sale of park land

Port Commissioner Curt Gordon listens to public testimony before Wednesday
Port Commissioner Curt Gordon listens to public testimony before Wednesday's vote on a purchase offer on the Dorothy Cleveland Trail property.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

CLINTON — Port of South Whidbey commissioners are moving forward with the controversial sale of a 14-acre property near Possession Point that contains the uppermost portion of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.

At a special meeting Wednesday, port officials voted to counter a $240,000 offer from a prospective buyer of the property, with the commissioners hoping to get a protective easement from the purchaser that would cover the entire length of the trail and keep it open to the public.

The potential buyer, who was not identified by port officials, wants to build a home on the park property and had offered to give a partial easement that would protect the popular trail.

The easement that was offered, however, did not include the uppermost loop on the trail.

Port officials reviewed two offers on the property. A second offer for $145,000 was made by Independent Towers Holding LLC, and that potential buyer indicated its offer was contingent on receiving “all permits and entitlements for subdivision and permitting of a communications tower.”

Independent Towers is based in Latham, N.Y. and has been developing wireless communications infrastructure in the United States since 2002, according to the company’s website.

Public sentiment against the sale of the park property is still strong, however.

At Wednesday’s meeting, several Clinton residents threatened a lawsuit to thwart the sale.

“You can never replace these assets,” said Ed Jenkins, who said he was circulating a petition to stop the port from selling the property.

He also threatened to file a lawsuit against port commissioners for “breach of fiduciary responsibility.”

“There will be a lawsuit by one or more people if this happens,” he said.

“If you are looking at excess property, you’ve put a ton of money into Clinton (Beach) park, which is vastly underused,” he added. “Clinton park is an ongoing money pit to maintain. The only cars that are generally there are people waiting for people at the ferry. If anything should be put up for sale, it should be that park.”

“I don’t think you have to put much of anything into maintaining the trail,” Jenkins said.

Bruce Buls, a Possession Shores resident, called the potential sale a “travesty” that would destroy the park.

“I think it speaks very poorly of your environmental stewardship, that you would want to take this property and open it up to commercial development,” Buls said. “I think that the sale of the park, especially to cell-tower interests, is a real kick in the ass to our neighborhood.”

“Not only do you want to destroy the park ... you want to do some damage to our neighborhood at the same time,” he said. “I don’t think that’s good public policy, and it’s certainly not being good neighbors.”

He warned the port there could be repercussions if the sale goes through.

“If there is any way we can sue, impeach, recall — we’ll certainly be looking into it,” Buls said.

Although the port received only two offers by Wednesday’s meeting, there has been other interest in the property.

Bob Maschmedt of Clinton told the port he represented a group of investors who were preparing to make an offer. The group has been looking for land on Whidbey Island that can be purchased and used for hunting.

“We would not want a cell tower there,” he added. “All we want to do is have a place to hunt.”

He said the group would only hunt during the 45-day deer season, and that hunting would not interfere with hikers using the trail.

Port officials have drawn fire since late 2009 over the fate of the park property, after AT&T representatives sought permission to place a 140-foot cell-phone tower on the ridge above Possession Point, right next to the Dorothy Cleveland Trail. Commissioners later declared the property surplus, and it was listed for sale earlier this month for $235,000. Officials have said keeping an upland park meant for recreational uses under port district control runs counter to the port’s mission of economic development.

Although one person testified in favor of a cell tower on the land at Wednesday’s meeting because it would improve emergency response times, most everyone else who spoke out was opposed to any sale of the park property that would lead to commercial development and the construction of a cell- phone tower.

Tom Cahill, president of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, told port commissioners the land trust continues to oppose the sale, and stressed the economic value that the property already provides to the port.

He warned that the steeply sloped property was prone to landslides and should not be developed because it would hurt the health of wildlife and fish habitat nearby.

“Selling the steep, forested bluff property for development will adversely affect the natural systems that have made Possession Beach highly important for salmon recovery in Puget Sound,” Cahill said.

The port purchased the Possession Park property in 1985.

“It made sense at that time,” Cahill said. “It continued to make sense for the next 25 years. However, suddenly, this 14-acre property that is not costing the port any money and is in fact protecting a substantial government-funded investment along the beach, is ‘surplus,’” he added.

“This surplus decision only happened after neighbors objected to a cell tower on the top of the ridge,” Cahill said. “We call on the port commissioners, as elected officials, to take a step back and realize that they are actually hurting the economic well-being of the Port of South Whidbey by selling this important and geologically unstable piece of property.”

Port commissioners retreated to a closed-to-the-public executive session for 25 minutes to discuss the purchase price of the property before returning to vote on the offers. Both offers were set to expire on Friday.

Beyond a clarification of what the easement would cover, there was no discussion.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to make a counteroffer to the buyer who wants to build a home on the property. Port Commissioners Geoff Tapert and Curt Gordon voted yes, Port Commissioner Chris Jerome voted no.

The prospective buyer will have until March 7 to respond to the port’s counteroffer.

Jermone said after the meeting he voted no because there were better uses for the property.

“My position all along is that any offers have to be considered against all of the alternatives. And I did not feel these offers measured up to what as I see as our alternatives,” he said.

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