Bellingham to buy Chuckanut Ridge for $8.23 million

The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously at an Aug. 15 meeting to purchase Chuckanut Ridge, approving a deal crafted by Mayor Dan Pike that positions the city to buy the property for $8.23 million using Greenways funding and park impact fees.

The purchase is set to close Sept. 29, and will close nearly 20 years of debate about the fate of the 82-acre property, also known as Fairhaven Highlands.

“This is an historic moment, and a great deal all the way around for the entire community,” Pike said in a news release. “Securing public ownership of this property meets our commitment to protecting natural green settings and access to open space, providing parks and trails citywide, and preserving neighborhood character.”

The property is one of the last large, wooded properties remaining within city limits. Purchase of portions of the property was an idea included in both the Beyond Greenway levy (1997) and the Greenway 3 levy (2006). The purchase of all or portions of Chuckanut Ridge is supported by the Greenway Advisory Committee and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

The economic downturn and the failure of Horizon Bank in January 2010 put the property within the financial reach of the city. Washington Federal acquired a portfolio of Horizon loans when that bank failed, including a loan made to Greenbriar Northwest Associates LLC secured by a deed of trust on the Chuckanut Ridge property. The bank started foreclosure at a trustee sale, resulting in Washington Federal acquiring title to the property last month.

Greenbriar Northwest Associates, a local housing developer, paid approximately $16 million for the property in 2004 with financial help from Horizon Bank. Later, near the height of the real estate boom, Greenbriar offered to sell it to the city for $26 million.

However, an appraisal conducted in 2010 placed the property value at $8.87 million. The current assessed value of the property, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office, is $11.7 million.

The agreement approved by the City Council includes paying for the property with $4.5 million in Greenways 3 acquisition funding, approved by voters in 2006; $500,000 from parks impact fees collected on the southside; and a loan of approximately $3.23 million from the Greenways endowment fund.

Pike said that throughout the many legal steps and negotiations required to arrive at this point, he has particularly appreciated Washington Federal’s support and partnership in the City’s efforts to acquire the property for public benefit. Tom Kenney, Senior Vice President for Washington Federal and the bank’s Regional Executive in Northern Washington, echoed Pike’s words.

“Washington Federal is very pleased to have played a role in helping the people of Bellingham secure this beautiful property as protected public space,” Kenney said in a news release. “We appreciate the patience and support of those who worked with us during this lengthy process.”

Bellingham City Council President Stan Snapp said adding this property to Greenways is the realization of a long-time dream.

“This is the realization of a long-time community dream for those of us who have been involved with Greenways since the early 1990s,” Snapp said. “This purchase will secure public access to a property that has been enjoyed by Bellingham residents for decades. It will allow us to provide increased recreation and open space to the whole community, and better trail connections for nearby neighborhoods.”

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