Lots cost town a lot

In the coming months, town leaders will find out how much residents love an empty waterfront space on Front Street in downtown Coupeville.

The town is looking to residents to raise $400,000 needed to purchase the property, which will assure it will never be developed. That money needs to be raised in the next nine months.

Despite what some residents saw as a steep price tag, the Coupeville Town Council last week approved a purchase option for the two waterfront lots located next to Toby’s Tavern. The owner is John Rodriguey through Front Street Holdings. He also owns the tavern.

“This is an opportunity to buy the property and prevent development,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said during the meeting.

There are signs of community support for the town to purchase the vacant waterfront lots on historic Front Street.

Some residents voiced their support during the recent controversy over the town’s draft Shoreline Management Plan. Some were critical of a regulation which would have allowed for construction to extend over the water for a “water enjoyment” use, such as a restaurant. Town officials eventually eliminated the water enjoyment provision from the draft plan and opted for the more restrictive “water dependent.”

The town had approached the lot owners in the past but hadn’t made any headway on an offer.

Leaders are looking to the community to foot the bill for the purchase. At least two of the Town Council members don’t want to use tax dollars.

“It’s not highway robbery but it’s an awful lot of money,” Council member Bob Clay said.

He ended up voting for the measure because it would be a way to gauge the community support for the property.

Council member Molly Hughes echoed Clay’s statements.

“I think it’s the community’s responsibility to step up and get the ball rolling,” Hughes said.

The community has some time to raise money to buy the property. The town has to make a token $25 payment for the initial option that runs until Jan. 4. They can extend that option to July 31, by paying an additional $39,975 in January. The money has to be in escrow by Aug. 1, 2008.

Conard said she will meet with some community people in the coming week. She hopes there will be a fund-raising campaign similar to the community effort that took place several years ago to preserve the Krueger Farm located on the west side of town.

The Coupeville Town Council unanimously approved the option agreement between the town and Front Street Holdings.

People attending the Tuesday evening meeting seemed surprised at the large amount of money the town has to come up with to pay for the property.

“The cost may seem more like extortion than opportunity,” Coupeville Town Council candidate Gary Piazzon said during the meeting. Piazzon has called for preserving several empty lots in the downtown area, referring to them as “historic gaps.”

Piazzon is facing Clay during next month’s election. He questioned Conard’s ability to negotiate and asked if the town can renegotiate the option terms later down the road.

Planning Commission member Doug McFadyen said during the council meeting that the price of the property is too high.

Conard said that there was very little room to negotiate on the price. She believes the purchase option is responsive to the needs of the community.

McFadyen also said the vacant lot closer to the Coupeville Wharf is the preferable one to purchase. He said that lot has more benefit to the public.

One thing is for sure, the option price is considerably higher than its assessment. The negotiated price for the property is $400,000 but the assessed value for the two lots included in the option is $113,466, according to information from the Island County Assessor’s Office.

A similar, but more expensive, situation took place earlier in the year in Oak Harbor when the Boyer property was sold into public ownership. That deal cost $2.2 million but the property was assessed at only about $500,000.

The property the town is looking to purchase is the same for which town officials are currently processing an application for a new building that could be constructed on the lot. However, those plans are on hold until the option plan’s fate is known.

Rodriguey’s application for the steak house doesn’t fall under the draft shoreline regulations that are currently being reviewed by the Washington State Department of Ecology unless the applicant chooses to withdraw the application and resubmit it when the new regulations are approved. The steak house proposal currently falls under a less restrictive shoreline plan the town approved in 1977.

The lot next to Toby’s Tavern isn’t the only one on the Front Street waterfront that could see some changes. The town received an application for a new building that would be built between the Kingfisher bookstore and the Windjammer Gallery. That two-story building would include residential and commercial space.

As for the fund-raising campaign, Conard is meeting with people who were involved with the Krueger Farm project and several potential donors. She hopes that over the next eight weeks, the town will find out if there is enough community support to pursue purchasing the waterfront property.

She wanted to get the town council approval before moving forward with fund-raising.

“I wanted to take this one step at a time,” Conard said.

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