Realvest property, object of failed land swap, purchased for $2.1 million

CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT STATE PARK - Cape Disappointment State Park grew by 80 acres last week after the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission called a rare special meeting to take action on the acquisition of Realvest Corp.'s property near the park.

The meeting was via conference call at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center meeting room with Commissioner Bob Petersen of Long Beach at the scene coordinating the call with five of the seven commissioners. The vote was unanimous to acquire the land.

The purchase of the land - which is within Ilwaco's city limits - has been in the works for two years, after the collapse of controversial State Parks plans to swap land it formerly owned near downtown Long Beach for the parcel. Following legislative action, State Parks deeded the Long Beach park land to the city last year.

The Ilwaco seaside parcel acquired by the state last week includes 1,100 feet of oceanfront and is the last piece of undeveloped high bluff at the southern end of the Peninsula. It includes a vista point and substantial dune area. After lengthy negotiations between Realvest owner Paul Christensen and Parks, a purchase price of $2.1 million was agreed upon.

"Opinions of the value of the property don't reflect the value to the purchaser of acquiring this unique property," Petersen said. "The acquisition of the viewshed is for the public good and for the good of Cape Disappointment State Park. We feel it is reasonable given the unique property."

Funds to purchase the land will come from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, $919,858; an appropriation from the state Legislature of $747.550; and Parks inholdings funds of $462,000. An inholding refers to private property in the middle of or adjacent to existing state parks that the commission has set aside in a special fund to acquire other property.

The extraordinary meeting last week was necessary to forestall construction of condominions on the property by Christensen's Realvest Corp. The acreage was annexed by the City of Ilwaco seven years ago, zoning changed to resort residential, and a permit was secured by Christensen to build a road to the lower portion of the property in the dunes. This road was constructed, with access though the private Thousand Trails-Naco campground.

Christensen also had begun the permitting process to modify the building setback line and shoreline designation. Parks determined that "the public would 'lose' the property to development" if it were not acquired.

"There was lots of support in the community to do this," Petersen said. "It's a worthwhile thing to do. If we don't do it, in 20 years people will say 'What dunces. Why did you pass it up?'"

Two letters were received from citizens urging approval by the commission.

Mayor of Ilwaco Ed Leonard told the commissioners that, although his city, "more than any other interest group in the area will be impacted by this because of the loss of taxable revenues, the fact is, this is an incredible opportunity. Open land is a disappearing commodity. Once gone, it's never seen again."

Leonard agreed with Petersen, saying "If you don't buy the land, in 10 years people will say 'What idiots. Look what you could have had.' If you do buy it, they'll say "Look at the wisdom they showed.' They won't remember the price. You've reached a reasonable compromise and it's time to go for it. If not it will be developed quickly. It can't be put on the back burner."

James Tongue of Seaview also spoke in favor of the purchase, saying he had "great appreciation of commissioners' persistence and goodwill to support the purchase."

Greg and Nancy Magee of Tacoma, who own a condominium in Seaview, also encouraged the purchase, saying they've had an "unfortunate experience" with a development on the butte near their property. They also encouraged the commission to "move farther north" and purchase more property adjoining the Christensen parcel. Greg Magee said he and his wife have written to the Legislature "encouraging allocation of more public funds to purchase more property."

Larry Fairleigh, assistant director of Parks, who was at the meeting, said "the rationale is clear and compelling to purchase this piece of land and I appreciate the generosity of the mayor and the people of Ilwaco. We are firmly committed to a world-class park in the area. This is just another step toward that goal."

With that, Petersen, saying he was "pleased and honored," made the motion to acquire the Christensen land, which was unanimously and enthusiastically approved by the commission.

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