No county money for Krueger Farm

For the past several months, Friends of Krueger Farm has been raising money to buy 33-acres on the west side of town to preserve a prominent rural entry into Coupeville.

The organization hoped to get a big boost from the county when it applied for $250,000 worth of Conservation Futures Funds — which helps fund conservation projects and public access projects. The money comes from property taxes.

Even though they were the only group to apply for the funding this year, it turns out they weren’t eligible for the program this year because of a parity issue.

“It would have been an absolute godsend,” said Friends of Krueger Farm member Sally Hayton-Keeva.

Conservation Futures Fund dollars are supposed to be distributed equally between Central and South Whidbey Island and the rest of the county. The move was made years ago at the urging of the county commissioners from Oak Harbor and Camano Island, who felt Central and South Whidbey were getting too much of the funding.

Since the county began awarding the fund in 1993, $3.43 million has gone toward projects on the south and central part of the island while $2.83 million has gone to projects in the rest of the county, including Oak Harbor and Camano Island.

Nearly $2.3 million used on the south end went to help purchase Greenbank Farm in 1997.

Until numbers equalize, applications for Conservation Futures funds will only be considered for northern Whidbey Island and Camano Island projects, according to county policy.

Commissioner Mike Shelton, who represents South and Central Whidbey, said that county is still a couple of years away from reaching spending parity.

Although disappointed, Hayton-Keeva said the group will apply for the fund again next year and try to find some way to get some emergency consideration by the commissioners because Friends of Krueger Farm is under a deadline to purchase the land.

Shelton said the county can’t make an exception for one group because there are other organizations on South Whidbey waiting for parity to apply for the fund.

Conservation Futures is funded by a 6.25 cent tax per $1,000 assessed property value. The county doled out more than $380,000 last year to a variety of projects in Oak Harbor and Camano Island, including a trailhead on Scenic Heights Road and the Davis Slough Heron Rookery.

Even though the group didn’t receive the Conservation Futures Fund money, fund-raising is still moving forward.

Friends of Krueger Farm currently raised $340,000 and $280,000 of that has already been used to purchase wetlands and grasslands between the Foursquare Church on Broadway and the woods east of the church.

“That protects one side of the rural entrance into town,” Hayton-Keeva said.

While part of the land is protected, Friends of Krueger Farm had to negotiate a 10-month extension on the fundraising deadline with owner Cecil Stuurmans.

“It’s just better to have a longer period of time to raise money,” Hayton-Keeva said. She added that the loss of Conservation Futures funding wasn’t a factor in negotiating the deadline. The extra time was needed to make it easier for the grassroots group to meet their goals.

Hayton-Keeva said the group is working on expanding their efforts to surrounding communities and hopefully win some grants.

Seeking grants has been slow going because the there aren’t many available to preserving open space and the ones that are available are for small amounts, Hayton-Keeva said.

The group has two remaining deadlines to meet. They must raise $270,000 by the end of this year and another $270,000 by October 2005.

That money will be used to tie up the most of the 33-acre parcel.

Krueger Farm has been controversial chunk of land ever since a comprehensive plan amendment came forward in December 2002 to rezone the property.

In the summer of 2003, the Coupeville Town Council approved a complicated rezone plan that utilized a variety of zoning classifications within the property.

With the rezone, the “T-shaped” wooded area would be donated to the town as open space, and the town would work on standards for cottage-style housing. The plan also allowed for development moratoriums to allow for fund-raising.

While Friends of Krueger Farm works to buy residential property in the farm, the group also aims to purchase a three-acre piece of commercial land that will be used to build a barn for community use.

“I see it as being the hub of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve,” Hayton-Keeva said.

Hayton-Keeva said the barn could be used as a gathering place or a new location for a farmer’s market. She hopes having such a venue will help benefit agriculture of Central Whidbey Island.

“We feel that it’s really important that you live in an area that is known by it’s farming,” Hayton Keeva said.

To help raise the $600,000 needed to purchase the commercial property, Hayton Keeva said the group is looking for an organization to partner with to develop the barn.

Ice cream fundraiser

Friends of Krueger Farm is holding an ice cream social Sunday, May 23, 1 p.m. in Coupeville Recreation Hall.

Donations can be mailed to Friends of Krueger Farm, PO Box 1515, Coupeville, WA, 98237.

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