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Friends ask parks district for money
"Touting a park design that could bring horse, walking, and biking trails into the middle of Freeland's commercial district, three members of the Friends of Freeland asked the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioners for money to help them purchase 18 acres of forest and wetlands on Scott Road.After showing an artist's drawings of the acreage that included trails, a boardwalk, a nature learning area, parking lots and a small community center, Friends members Steve Shapiro, Herb Hunt, and Vince Johnston asked the commissioners to pay a portion of the land's purchase price in exchange for eventual ownership of the planned park.The Friends tried to buy the acreage in an auction last month, but had their $270,000 bid rejected. Since then, the South Whidbey residents have been raising money within their own ranks to buy the land outright.Though the group has already raised more than $100,000 toward the purchase, Shapiro said the Friends need at least six times that. The Friends have been negotiating a purchase price with the land's owner, Chris Kelly, for the past three weeks. That price, Shapiro said, is still not final, but should be between $600,000 and $653,000.Turning to the parks district is a matter of practicality. Shapiro said he and other Friends hope the public agency can use it to access to state recreation grants to pay a portion of the land's price, then take over the maintenance of a park once the Friends develop it. Securing public funds now would give the group a solid financial position as it continues negotiations.I don't know how much money we're going to raise, Shapiro said.Pointing to what he described as deficits in open space and trails in the district's five-year comprehensive plan, Shapiro said the Freeland acreage fits really well into the district's growth scheme. He encouraged the commissioners to direct parks director Jerry Cole to apply for a state Interagency Committee recreation (IAC) grant to help buy the land, to commit a portion of this year's budget to the purchase or toward buying an option on the land, or to loan money to the Friends.Commissioner Jim Porter said pulling cash out of the district's budget is something he is not willing to do.I'm not sure we're in any position to do that, he said.Curt Gordon, president of the board, was more blunt than Porter.I personally as a commissioner don't think we should commit at this point to giving you any help, he said.Nonetheless, after some consideration, the commissioners agreed to hold a special workshop on Friday, April 27 to decide whether or not to apply for an IAC grant. Jerry Cole assured the commissioners that he can write the grant and submit it by the state's May 1 deadline, even with short notice after next Wednesday's meeting. To qualify for the funds, the district must also submit an appraisal of the Freeland acreage by mid-July. The Friends have not yet had an appraisal performed.Wednesday's workshop is scheduled for noon at the parks and recreation offices at the South Whidbey Community Park. "