Taxpayers may end up paying more than top dollar for a small parking lot in Langley.
Port of South Whidbey commissioners agreed at a meeting last week to counteroffer Wharf Street Holding Company, LLC, $130,000 for the tiny property at the bottom of Wharf Street adjacent to South Whidbey Harbor. The decision comes after the district paid up to $1,000 for a professional property valuation, which estimated fair market value at between $100,000 and $120,000.
The Island County Assessor’s Office has assessed the parcel at $51,000.
Commissioner Ed Halloran, who is also the president of the board, said the property is sorely needed and is standing by the decision.
“The value of property like that is in the eyes of whoever wants it or whoever is selling it,” Halloran said.
The port is in an ongoing process to expand the marina, and parking is a vital but rare commodity in the land-limited area near the harbor. Halloran said he believes the lot would provide up to a dozen spaces, providing immediate congestion relief but also satisfying parking requirements needed later for future expansion permits.
“When we do the next phase of the marina, it will be a necessity … We’ll need the additional spaces,” Halloran said.
Port officials began looking at buying the property earlier this summer. Initially, a purchase price of $170,000 was negotiated, but the deal was subject to the valuation and an environmental assessment. Earlier this month, after both reports came back, port commissioners agreed to counteroffer $100,000 and fund a second and more detailed environmental review.
According to Jan-Marc Jouas, interim director of the port, the additional study would cost about $9,000 and would be picked up by the district. He noted that terms require a positive result, that the property be free and clear from potential environmental contaminants.
“The sale of that property is contingent on a clean bill of health,” Jouas said.
The property was once adjacent to a facility with fuel and port commissioners worry about what might have been left behind. Halloran said the port doesn’t have a “fairy godmother” to rescue the district from buying an expensive problem, so the decision was made to spend some money up front to ensure the district makes a responsible purchase. It’s the only way to be sure, he said.
“We’re not soothsayers,” Halloran said.
Also unknown is the number of parking spaces the lot would really provide. Assessor’s office documents outline a small property that is constrained by both landscaping and an easement. Halloran said he’s still hopeful for up to 12 spaces, but acknowledged it could be less.
Achieving the maximum number of spaces could only be accomplished with difficulty. For one, cars in the inner-most spaces would require others to move before they could leave. The easement is also a challenge. The owner has agreed to let the port use the spaces, but only if the port promises to reserve the area upon request.
“It’s wormy,” said Halloran of the lot’s hurdles, but he remains convinced it’s something the port should attempt to acquire.
“Little by little, I’ve been convinced it has long-term value for the port, if we buy it right,” he said.
Jouas said Thursday that he couldn’t provide a status update on the counteroffer and that it was still under negotiation.