City to buy nearly 15 acres along Burnt Bridge trail

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoBurnt Bridge Creek acquisitions

Portions of the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, a popular paved route for runners, walkers and cyclists that winds through the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, will be preserved and enhanced after the city buys four parcels totaling nearly 15 acres.

The Vancouver City Council voted unanimously on Monday to spend $890,000 to acquire the land, using revenue collected from park impact fees.

It did not go by unnoticed, however, that the city was spending money to buy more parks land when it can't afford to maintain the current inventory of parks. Voters last month rejected a request to establish a new tax to support parks and recreation, funding for which has been slashed.

Since 2008, the number of full-time employees at the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department has

been cut in half. Parks funding accounts for approximately 6 percent of the city's general fund, down from 10 to 11 percent.

During Monday's meeting, Stephanie Turlay, wife of Councilor Bill Turlay, and Carolyn Crain, who lost a bid for the state Legislature last month, questioned the wisdom of buying the land.

They were told park impact fees, which are paid by developers, can only be used to acquire parks and open space, not maintain existing parks. Councilor Turlay said he'd like local legislators work to get the state law changed so the city would have more freedom to spend the money. Councilor Larry Smith said there have been attempts to change the law, but lobbyists always succeed in blocking proposed legislation.

If the city doesn't spend park impact fees in 10 years, the city has to return the fees to the developer, plus interest.

Vancouver has 10 park districts and about $16 million in park impact fees.

Jean Akers, chief park planner, said money from four park districts will be used to buy the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway parcels.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who said it was a good time to buy property because prices are relatively low, asked if neighbors had been notified of the sale.

No, Akers said. Under state law, preliminary discussions about real estate transactions are one reason a council can meet in executive session, out of public view.

City Manager Eric Holmes reminded councilors the city hadn't bought anything yet, as staff was waiting for the council's approval, which it got with Monday's unanimous vote.

The city already owns land on either side of the parcels, Holmes said, and the purchases would make incremental additions to the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, a system already being cared for by the city.

The west end of Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, which overlaps in parts with the Discovery Trail, starts at Fruit Valley Road and Bernie Drive and runs east for eight miles, ending in the area of Burton Road and Northeast 90th Avenue.

Of the land the city plans to buy, two adjacent parcels totaling 7.59 acres are in the western end of the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway. The land, which the city's buying from an estate, includes part of the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, and a footpath up to Bernie Drive so residents don't have to walk down to Fruit Valley Road. The city has had a conditional easement on the property, Akers said, but wanted to buy it after the owner died.

The proposed purchase price, $300,000, was based on an independent appraisal.

The other two parcels are south of Burnt Bridge Creek, east of Leverich Park and north of state Highway 500.

One of the parcels, 4.98 acres, belongs to an elderly woman, Akers said. Her 1937 house is in disrepair and will be demolished, and her family will use the money to move the woman into a care facility. The proposed price is $450,000, based on an independent appraisal. Councilors questioned that price, and were told the land was particularly valuable because it could be cleared for up to 18 residences.

An adjacent parcel of 2.3 acres — proposed price $140,000 — is in foreclosure, Akers said. It has a 1952 residence proposed for demolition.

Those two parcels, Akers said, will help close a gap in the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway. Eventually the trail could be moved off Northeast 41st Street and the paved trail could be extended.

Smith said protecting the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway is part of the city's comprehensive plan.

"Burnt Bridge Creek is a showcase," he said. "There's not many communities that have an asset like that running through the city."

Smith added that the Parks Foundation of Clark County was created to raise money for parks maintenance. And maintaining the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway isn't as expensive as keeping up a city park with amenities such as playground equipment and picnic tables and grass that needs to be regularly mowed.

Akers said the workers from the city's public works department care for the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, which includes stream restoration work. Money to pay for that comes out of the city's stormwater utility fees. The money to pay for ongoing maintenance of the properties was included in the 2013-14 budget, Akers said.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said the greenway is low-maintenance and has a high value.

According to a 2010 trail count, 253,955 trips are made to the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail annually, making the trail the third most-popular trail in the county behind the Columbia River Renaissance Trail and Salmon Creek Trail.


Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.