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Farm development rights debated

Can the port give them up?

Plans to protect the open space at the Greenbank Farm will take a step forward soon.

The Port of Coupeville, which owns the Central Whidbey farm, wants to give up its development rights and place a conservation easement on the property. That would add further protections to help prevent the land from being developed at some future time.

The first thing officials have to do is to find out if it is legal for a port district to give up development rights. To discover that, they are seeking an opinion from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Port officials are asking for an informal opinion regarding the conservation easement. That is needed to address concerns raised by the state Auditor’s Office.

Jim Patton, executive director for the port, said he doesn’t know of a case where a port district would willingly give up development rights to property it owns. Ports are generally tasked with economic development, not protecting land from development.

Port officials are arguing that the fields and woods surrounding the farm attract people to Greenbank, which serves as an economic benefit to the community. He’s not sure how the argument will be received.

“I don’t know which way this conservation easement will go,” Patton said.

If the easement goes forward, it will be worked into the farm’s master site plan currently being composed. The master site plan work would better define the boundaries of the conservation easement.

Patton said he will also have to consult with attorneys to make sure a conservation easement doesn’t damage the value of the bonds the port is currently paying off for the purchase of the Greenbank Farm.

Patton said that the development rights would be transferred to Island County, which would place the conservation easement on the property.

The commissioners for the Port of Coupeville took a step forward to making an easement a reality during their recent monthly meeting. The passed a resolution declaring surplus the development rights of the open space at the farm.

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