Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why Not plan Low Impact?

Scott Pesznecker, Herald Writer reports Builder has plans for Japanese Gulch and this alerts preservation advocates in Everett and Mukilteo.

EVERETT -- Runners, bicyclists and hikers who live in Mukilteo have spent years encouraging city leaders to preserve Japanese Gulch, a steep swath of woods and wetlands.A development company in California has other plans.

The company, Birtcher Development & Investments, wants to build a light industrial park by Japanese Gulch on the edge of Everett city limits, said Jim Edwards, senior vice president for the company's Northwest region.The proposed development would be built on roughly 55 acres of a 160-acre site on the west side of the gulch.

That's an area where nearby residents have trespassed for years to enjoy a network of trails on privately owned land.Birtcher Development already has an agreement in place to buy the land from four property owners, assuming the company likes what it sees from an ongoing feasibility study.

The study has been under way for six months, Edwards said."We're pursuing our original intent, which is to buy and develop the property," Edwards said.The company specializes in building state-of-the-art industrial and business parks to be sold or leased, and is responsible for developing thousands of acres of land on the West Coast, Edwards said.Mukilteo City Councilman Kevin Stoltz is among the avid runners who frequent the trails and slopes of Japanese Gulch. He jogs through the woods there about four times a week, and almost always encounters four or five people along the way.

Lately, Stoltz said, he's noticed survey flags and other indications that the gulch is under study."The whole area up there is full of trails," he said. "That would really impact people greatly who have been using it over the years."Birtcher Development representatives have been discussing their plans with Everett and Mukilteo officials for the past few months. Although the gulch property is in Everett, the land can only be accessed through Mukilteo.

A group of Mukilteo residents who are determined to try to prevent development in the gulch recently voiced their displeasure at an Everett City Council meeting.If the developer winds up dropping its plans to build an industrial park, the citizens group wants the city of Everett to have a plan in place for keeping the gulch green."We realize that other developers have looked at this property over the past 30 years, and they've all backed out, but it might turn out that some developer won't," said Mukilteo resident Richard Emery, the group's leader. "We realize that may be this developer, and we may have waited too long."Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and

Council President Drew Nielsen said they would prefer that the site be preserved as open space. However, they said they will not commit money for a park there because doing so would not fit into Everett's long-term parks plan. Everett's plan focuses on using land that already is public, such as utility rights-of-way and school sites.

The developer has offered to give the Japanese Gulch acreage that it can't build on to be used as parkland by the city of Everett."We understand the Mukilteo citizens' appreciation for the woods that they've enjoyed for a long time. We're not insensitive to their feelings about it," Edwards said.

Everett officials said they would be willing to clear the way for Mukilteo to annex Japanese Gulch land now in Everett, but only if Mukilteo officials pledge to preserve the land as a park.Mukilteo still would have to come up with the money to buy the land, and that is a problem, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said.Also, most of the land the developer has offered to provide the city of Everett is either wetlands or steep hillside, and could not be used as a park, Marine said."The area they can't develop is basically the gully part," he said. "It doesn't matter whether they gift it to Everett or keep it for themselves. It's trees. It's a slope."Preserving the interior of the gulch would be better than nothing, Stoltz said. He believes there is support on the Mukilteo City Council to find a way to obtain the land if plans for the industrial park fall through.

There is definitely support in the community to preserve the gulch, Emery said."There's nothing like it in south Snohomish County at this point," he said. "If it goes away, it's irreplaceable. It never comes back."

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