Letters to the Editor

Councilman Peterson explains his vote on the Brickworks conservation easement

The issues surrounding my vote against the purchase of the conservation and historic preservation easement on the Erickson Building seem to be remaining controversial and divisive on San Juan Island, even though this action was taken over a month ago.

This letter is an effort to set out my reasoning and, ideally, provide information that may help to avoid further problems of this kind.

The main reasons for my vote against the project are:

— The Town of Friday Harbor withdrew from their initial role in funding, approving and having a direct relationship with ownership of the property. This was very different from the original concept in which the Town was to be partial purchaser, hold title to the property, and be in a lease arrangement with the Ag Guild.

The Town’s involvement was also important because many contentious aspects of the purchase such as parking, possible neighboring use conflicts with the “green space,” and many others were properly issues for the Town Council to consider, and not the purview of County Council.

— The complex 27-page historic and conservation easement document was presented to the County Council five days before the hearing, with no opportunity provided for review or modification, and was presented in an “all or nothing” fashion. The council was told that the purchase and sale agreement had to be finalized on Aug. 24 in order to meet an Aug. 31 deadline. (Subsequent to the outcome of the vote on the easement transaction, the owners apparently agreed to extend the deadline).

— The proposal being voted on contained many serious flaws, including the transfer of financial oversight responsibility from the County Council (which is charged with that function by the Charter) to the Land Bank. Additionally, the safeguards for the public funds (your funds) were expressed in non-binding terms such as “may be” rather than “shall be,” as is normally found in contracts.

In my opinion, approval of the document would have put far more than the original $400,000 designated for the property in jeopardy due to language that would have allowed for the Land Bank to assume the Ag Guild’s expenses for maintenance.

— The resolution presented to the council gave the impression that the council had already approved the purchase of the property. This language misrepresented the Council/Land Bank authority relationship in my opinion, and if approved as written, would have degraded the council authority as designated in the charter.

Efforts are under way to clarify the respective authority roles of the Land Bank/Council relationship. This will help in preventing future recurrences of difficulties like the ones we encountered on Aug. 24.

The fact that mine was one of two votes that stopped the approval of this easement purchase transaction was beyond our control. With only five council members eligible to vote, the necessary four votes for approval were unavailable. I spent considerable time reading the documents, evaluating the issues and materials presented, and consulting with county legal counsel. In the final analysis, I could not in good conscience and what I believe to be the county’s best interests vote for the easement.

My vote does not reflect a negative view of either the farmers or the Land Bank. I hold both in high regard.

Rich Peterson
San Juan County Council member
District 2 (North San Juan)

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