Island County will accept the donation of 300 feet of waterfront property on South Whidbey.
The Island County commissioners informally agreed in a split decision to authorize Public Works officials to move forward with the final legal details to secure the property.
“This is an incredible offer to the citizens of Island County and I’m very appreciative,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.
“It’s a beloved beach on South Whidbey,” she said.
The decision was not unanimous, however, as Commissioner Kelly Emerson repeated past concerns about taking on additional park land when the county is struggling financially to maintain what it has.
Emerson also noted that the donation is for a valuable piece of beachfront property and accepting the donation would mean forfeiting property taxes sorely needed for county coffers.
The property in question is owned by Frank Robinson, a South Whidbey native who went on to found the Robinson Helicopter Company in Los Angeles. He has allowed the public to use the property, located adjacent to the Mutiny Bay boat launch, for years.
His health has begun to decline and family members recently made it clear his hope was to see it transferred into public ownership. The only conditions are that it remain park land, it be named after the Robinson family and that the boat launch continue to be maintained.
Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works, estimated the value of the undeveloped property at $600,000 with annual taxes in the range of $6,000 to $7,000.
While that would increase if the property were developed, providing additional income for the the county, Oakes said this was a rare opportunity to acquire no-bank, beachfront property adjacent to a boat launch and public parking lot.
“It’s a tremendous asset to this access location,” Oakes said.
He also noted that the Robinson family could have developed the property long ago but chose not to.
“The Robinsons have not wanted that,” Oakes said. “In fact, they are looking at this as a legacy for Frank.”
Oakes added that there are no known maintenance costs associated with the property and that both the Port of South Whidbey and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District have expressed willingness to discuss the possibilities for future joint management.
Commissioner Jill Johnson, who was attending her first work session since taking office, said she understood Emerson’s concerns and that the county should be “picky” when it comes to accepting new property.
This is an exceptional case, however, and Johnson said a “compelling case” was made that demonstrates the value the public stands to receive in accepting the donation.
“I’m comfortable with moving it forward,” Johnson said. A Republican, she ousted Democrat Angie Homola in the November election in Commissioner District 2 which encompasses Oak Harbor.
A draft donation agreement has been sent to the Robinson family, Oakes said. Whether any edits are made or not, the board planned to take formal action after the family responds.
Enjoying the beach Thursday was Gary Dunn, who was walking along the pure sand as clear water lapped the shoreline and a passing container ship was dwarfed by the snow covered Olympic Mountains.
“I was concerned nobody would take over ownership,” he said. “When we heard the news we were really happy.” His wife was sitting in the car, enjoying the warming rays of the sun.
Dunn is building a house on the hill on a lot they purchased 20 years ago. As their dream house is built, his dream beach will be open to the public. All the neighbors are pleased, he said. “We would come here to volunteer,” he said, alluding to concerns about keeping the public beach clean. “Now we won’t feel like we’re trespassing.”