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  Bellingham Herald  August 1, 2009

Bellingham to buy 80 north acres for greenways

By Kie Kelea

BELLINGHAM - The City Council will spend $1.7 million for 80 acres along Northwest Drive that will one day be developed into a park with trails as part of plans to create greenways in north Bellingham.

Council members on Monday, July 27, unanimously approved the purchase of the land between Kline and Waldron roads from The Riley Companies Inc. Funding will come from the Greenway levy that Bellingham voters approved in 2006.

The Greenway Program was started in 1990 by a group of citizens to raise money to buy land for parks and trails, to preserve open space and for conservation. Voters have passed three levies since then to support the effort.

This property is just outside the city limits. It features wetlands, rolling meadows, clumps of woods and small creeks, including Bear Creek.

The City Council on Monday also voted to lease the land to Cordata Investments LLC for the next 10 years, so the developer can use it for wetlands mitigation. Cordata Investments plans to develop more than 45 acres east of Cordata Parkway between Stuart and West Horton roads into housing, shopping, offices, light-industrial space, parks and community buildings.

Because the developer's project could involve filling in wetlands on the Cordata site, it must create or improve wetlands elsewhere as required by environmental regulations. It will do that on the 80-acre site.

The city will receive no income from the lease agreement, which can be canceled at any time, in exchange for Cordata Investments taking on the burden of holding the land and dealing with such issues as trespassing or camping, said Tim Wahl, who coordinates the Greenway Program for the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.

The agreement in turn saves the city the cost of maintaining the land. As the mitigation occurs, plans for trails will be developed and perhaps built, which also would save the city money.

Long-term plans call for coordinating the development of three miles of trails on the parcel, with the trailhead located on Northwest.

But residents won't be enjoying the parks or its trails for at least 10 years.

"We're buying it now to conserve it," Wahl said. "We are buying for the future."

The park will accommodate Bellingham's future growth to the north.

If the city waits until development occurs around the parcel, then the land becomes much more expensive, Wahl said.

Buying now also fits into plans to buy large tracts of land on the north side to anchor the Greenway system in readiness for other purchases that will provide links. Unlike south Bellingham, the north doesn't have a legacy of patrons who made parks possible by donating land.