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Clark County buys part of former Cedars golf course, will preserve land as park

Neighbors mourn loss of recreation but are relieved property won't be developed

By , Columbian staff writer
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Clark County officials approved the purchase of the former Cedars on Salmon Creek golf course for $2.57 million. Residents in the area were worried the property, which will be left as a greenway, was headed for housing development.
Clark County officials approved the purchase of the former Cedars on Salmon Creek golf course for $2.57 million. Residents in the area were worried the property, which will be left as a greenway, was headed for housing development. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Leo Van Dolson bought his home near The Cedars on Salmon Creek golf course, he thought the course would be there for years to come — as did his neighbors. But the Brush Prairie course closed its doors last fall, leaving many residents worried about what would become of the property.

Some of those fears were put to rest when the Clark County Council unanimously approved purchasing 118 acres of the 133-acre course for $2.57 million at its Aug. 16 meeting. The property will be added to the county’s park system.

Rocky Houston, division manager for the county’s Parks and Lands Department, said the purchase was funded by the Legacy Lands Program’s conservation futures. Funds for the purchase were set aside in the 2022-2027 Parks Capital Plan, with an additional $600,000 in Clean Water Funds allocated to address structural stormwater control requirements.

“It was a disappointment to see the golf course go; but at the same time, many of us were pretty comfortable with having a park system here,” Van Dolson said in an interview.

Cedars on Salmon Creek was the third golf course in the county to close last year, along with Lakeview Par 3 and Hartwood golf courses in Vancouver. Van Dolson said many of his neighbors bought their homes specifically because of their proximity to the golf course.

“In this area, 117 new homes went in one to three years ago and they were all sold as golf course properties. Nobody knew that, at the same time, the property was in the process of being sold off,” Van Dolson told the council during its meeting.

Houston said the course owner, J & A Property Holdings, first approached the county about purchasing the land three years ago. After getting direction from the county council, he said Clark County Public Works held several public meetings to determine residents’ interest in the idea.

“We conducted our final round of outreach with the neighbors in September 2021 to get that final pulse of the community, which was overall favorable for the acquisition of the property,” Houston said.

Houston said the focus of the Legacy Lands program is to protect the county’s natural resources, “that quintessential landscape, natural areas, open space, to preserve that aspect of Clark County for future generations.”

Houston said turning the now defunct golf course into a park or open space helps meet that goal. With the property lying along 2 miles of Salmon Creek, Houston said the purchase will also protect important wetlands habitat.

‘This is a win’

During the council meeting, Councilor Julie Olson thanked the neighbors for their input on the purchase. She also thanked the property owner for approaching the county in 2019 and for waiting three years to finalize the sale.

“He could have easily built homes and sold it to a developer. We now have 2 miles of a fish-bearing stream along Salmon Creek that we’re preserving in perpetuity. That’s a big deal,” Olson said. “No one is going to be 100 percent happy, but this is really a win for the community.”

Councilor Gary Medvigy said he supported the purchase even though, ““I know we’re not going to make every resident happy.”

“Change is awful especially when you may have come to that area and retired, expecting to live on a golf course,” Medvigy said.

Medvigy said he spoke with the owner about finding another buyer willing to continue operating the course but said the numbers “would never pencil out.”

“This is a win. This is an absolute great use of conservation money,” Medvigy added.

Councilor Richard Rylander Jr. said the county’s purchase of the property was a better alternative, regardless of any limitations imposed by using Legacy Lands funds.

“I agree it may not be an absolute 100 percent win for the surrounding area and homeowners, but I think it it’s a substantial improvement over what could have happened,” Rylander said.

New homes planned

The county did not purchase the entire golf course property. According to Houston, approximately 15 acres around and including the 10th hole was retained by the property owner. Houston said the county wanted to purchase all 133 acres but couldn’t reach an agreement on the price. Instead, he said the property owner is planning to develop those 15 acres as new homes.

“We’re very disappointed the county could not work out an arrangement to acquire the 10th hole area,” Van Dolson said. “We think and understand they really did try to work things out.”

Van Dolson said there are 130-150 homes around the 10th hole that will be directly impacted by a new housing development. He said he expects those new houses to be built within the next couple of years.

“They not only lose the golf course or a park, but now they have more traffic, cars, congestion and so on,” Van Dolson said.

State law limits what the county could pay to purchase this or any other property to no more than the appraised value, Houston said. That can make the county less competitive in a market where sellers are asking for, and receiving, above market prices.

“We’re not trying to offer you 12 cents on the dollar. A good thing is there are rules out there to make sure we’re providing a fair price, market value, to ensure you’re being compensated justly for your property,” Houston said.

As for county’s plans for the new park land, Van Dolson said his understanding is it will be a greenway that may remain fallow for many years.

“We’re quite encouraged because Rocky (Houston) has told us we can become involved — as local residents — in an adopt-a-park program. We can actually help maintain the park around our homes,” Van Dolson said.

He said that’s important because a year ago it was a well-groomed golf course and now weeds have overtaken many of the greens, which could eventually attract nuisance animals and pests.

“I’m really looking forward to maintaining the area around my property as I adopt a park,” Van Dolson said.

“In the short term, what we’re working on is trying to identify what those immediate, urgent management needs are; managing vegetation/fuel reduction, making sure we’ve got basic signage out there. … We just want to make sure it continues be functional and safe,” Houston said.

Master plan

In the long term, Houston said the property will need to be included in the county’s master plan which will require a public process.

One thing the county can’t do with the property, despite pleas from residents, is continuing to operate the land as a golf course. Houston said the Legacy Lands Program prohibits the county from using the land for a commercial operation.

Although it’s not unusual, Houston said finding property owners willing to wade through the public process that comes with a county acquisition isn’t always easy.

“Our process requires a seller who is really interested in our mission and directives. Sometimes our process takes longer than (an individual) buying property,” Houston said. “Meeting state requirements, our review process, the public process, it takes six months to a year or longer sometimes to get through … to where we are today with Cedars. It’s always going to be an uphill battle,” he said.

As the county’s population continues to grow, Houston said the importance of having parks, open spaces and natural areas for residents to use and enjoy will only become more important.

“I hope a transaction like this does provide some interest and puts the thought out there for individuals about our program, our parks system across the county and those potential opportunities we have to continue that legacy of Legacy Lands.”

The county expects to close on the property within 30 days. More information about the Cedars Golf Course purchase can be found at https://clark.wa.gov/public-works/cedars-golf-course.

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