Opinion

About the Land Bank's proposed preservation, conservation easement on the Erickson Property | Guest Column

By AMANDA AZOUS
and LINCOLN BORMANN

Given the continued discussion over this project, we wanted to update the community on the process and clarify some of the details.

As we wrote last fall, after much public discussion the Land Bank Commission voted to approve purchase of an historic preservation and conservation easement over the Erickson property in the summer of 2008. The goal was to protect (and see restored) the last remaining industrial building in Friday Harbor, and provide public access to green space in the downtown core.

The Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Building was constructed in 1921, and the building materials produced there are evident in a number of other structures around town. The site currently is mostly hard-surfaced and surrounded by chain link fence and barbed wire.

Creating a public green space, so close to downtown shops, the marina and the ferries would dramatically change the feel of the town and encourage more pedestrian traffic to downtown businesses.

The Land Bank is currently in final negotiations with the Agricultural Guild on the terms of the easement, and an appraisal is due to be completed no later than mid-August. The proposed $400,000 expenditure by the Land Bank will not exceed appraised value of the easements. In addition, the Land Bank will require restoration of the structure.

The Land Bank has completed four previous historic preservation and conservation easements, including one last winter on the San Juan Island Historical Museum property. These easements have been a way for us to fulfill the “preservation of areas with historic value” part of the Land Bank’s mandate. In 2003, we also purchased four lots on Argyle Avenue with the intent of resale conditioned on any development conforming to the historic character of the neighborhood.

Given the refurbishing of several houses on the block and the addition of other historic buildings, this neighborhood will become a creative example of how older structures can be combined with new architecture while maintaining the village character of Friday Harbor.

Some argue that the Land Bank has no business doing projects in town and should only preserve open space in rural areas. They express concern over Land Bank resources spent on such projects. To this, we point out that the vast majority of our efforts are indeed focused on rural open space. Further, while Land Bank revenues from property transactions have fallen sharply, we have played a key role in securing over $20 million from grants and partner organizations for land preservation in the county over the past five years. We will continue to leverage the citizens' resources as efficiently as possible.

We ask people to note that nowhere above do the words "farmer’s market" appear. In fact, this is not what Land Bank funds are purchasing. Rather it is historic and open space conservation. Lastly, the Agricultural Guild will continue to pay taxes on the property as it will remain on the tax rolls.

There are still questions about the market project as a whole and the Agricultural Guild has taken on an enormous responsibility for making the project work – raising the rest of the needed funds, restoring the structure, creating the green space, and managing the site into the future.  

Every project has its risks. However, if the community can come together and support the effort, this one can succeed.

— Amanda Azous is chairwoman of the Land Bank Commission. Lincoln Bormann is director of the Land Bank.

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