Central Whidbey plots big land swap

The town of Coupeville and the National Park Service are looking to trade land.

Coupeville wants land for a stormwater project while the National Park Service wants land to build a visitors center.

Officials from both the National Park Service, the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing and the Coupeville Town Council were on hand Tuesday evening to unveil the preliminary points of the proposal.

The National Park Service wants to convert the Haller House, located at the corner of North Main Street and Front Street, into a visitors center.

The town wants the field east of South Main Street for its stormwater treatment project and a strip of land north of Highway 20 near Whidbey General Hospital that will help preserve a rural entry into town.

For the town to be able to trade the Haller House property, it has to purchase the property first. Mayor Nancy Conard said the owners of the property, the McPherson family, are interested in selling and the town has to put a purchase option on the property.

Once the town purchases the property, that piece, along with the adjacent Johnson Building property would be used to trade with the National Park Service.

The Johnson Building, which is slated for demolition later this year, would be converted into a parking lot and landscaping space.

Both sides have to figure out how much the properties are worth and come up with an equal value trade. To help equalize the value the National Park Service could add a piece of commercial property it owns on South Main Street.

Conard said she’s fairly certain the Park Service will have to pony up some dough to make sure the trade is an equal value.

While the field in question is considerably larger than the property in Coupeville, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is in the process of putting easements on the land that will severely restrict its uses.

“The field will have so many easements on it that it will only be used for farming,” Conard said.

Rick Wagner, realty officer for the National Park Service, said the easements will reduce the field’s value by 70 percent to 80 percent.

Mark Preiss, Manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, said the language for the easements that will be placed on the property is almost complete.

Including the strip of land located near the hospital, the amount of property the National Park Service could offer would be between 40 and 50 acres. That amount could vary as the project moves forward.

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve wants a visitors center in Coupeville and the Haller property is the spot officials found that provides the best location.

“This is the first property that the National Park Service and the Trust Board looked at that has enough space,” said Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. In addition to the Haller property, the Park Service also looked at the old fire hall in downtown Coupeville and the Joseph Libbey house.

Establishing a interpretive center was written into the general management plan for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Preiss added that a visitor survey conducted last year revealed that tourists wanted an visitors center as part of their experience to the Reserve.

Conard said the visitors center would add another anchor to downtown and bring in more visitors to downtown Coupeville.

“It really adds to that area,” Conard said.

As for the field, the town wants to use part of it for its stormwater retention project. Although still going through a feasibility study, town officials want to eventually divert its stormwater and use it as an irrigation source for surrounding farmers.

If the irrigation project falls through, part of the property will be used for aquifer recharge or bio-remediation, Conard said.

Conard admitted swapping property between the two entities could be complicated.

“It’s a pretty convoluted process I’m talking about,” Conard said during the meeting.

Wagner said swapping the land rather than selling it would benefit the reserve. If the fields were sold, then the money from the sale would go to the federal government and wouldn’t help the park service.

Preiss said the people involved will have to sit down and sketch out a project timeline and push it forward.

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