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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 16 - 22, 2002


Bellevue to buy open-space parcel

City needs $125,000 for 
deal to create park

"The idea is to protect the land and get it into public ownership, and do very few improvements to it."

— DAN GILMORE, Wood River Land Trust director of development

Express Staff Writer

Bellevue City Council members Thursday officially endorsed a plan for the city to purchase a 13-acre parcel of riverside open space for a public park and nature preserve.

In a 5-1 vote with Councilman Wayne Douthit dissenting, the council passed a resolution for the city to secure an option to purchase a plot of land south of downtown Bellevue known as the "Howard Property."

The resolution legally establishes an agreement between the city—with the non-profit Wood River Land Trust as a partner—and landowner John B. Howard.

The so-called "Option to Purchase" agreement gives the city and the land trust until Dec. 31, 2003, to pay a fixed price of $250,000 for Howard’s 12.58 acres along the Big Wood River, extending from Elm Street south to Chestnut Street. The agreement does not commit the partnership to buy the land, but does effectively exclude any other buyers from purchasing the property from Howard.

Dan Gilmore, Wood River Land Trust director of development and a leader of the initiative, said after the meeting that his efforts would now turn to raising funds to purchase the land. "We’re very excited that the project is moving forward," he said. "It’s an important property, and we’re confident we can raise the money to protect it."

The partnership between the city and the land trust stipulates that each party will be responsible for raising and contributing $125,000, half of the total purchase cost.

During council members’ debate on the proposal to enter into the agreement with Howard, City Attorney Jim Phillips explained that if the purchase is made, the city alone will hold clear title the land.

"Ultimately, the City of Bellevue will be the owner of the property, with the use restricted to recreation," he said.

The city plans to maintain the land, which is predominantly cottonwood forest, as a public preserve that permits passive recreation, such as walking and fishing.

"The idea is to protect the land and get it into public ownership, and do very few improvements to it," Gilmore said.

The land trust views the property as a key element of a larger plan to protect a corridor of riparian areas along the Big Wood River from Hailey south through Bellevue.

Council members last summer approved the concept of acquiring the land, and informally authorized Barton to start negotiations. The panel last month approved a new land-use map for the city that designated the parcel as open space.

Part of the property is currently zoned for business use, and the remainder is zoned for a combination of business and residential uses.

Gilmore and Scott Boettger, executive director the land trust, jointly presented the plan to the council last week. Boettger urged immediate action on the agreement with Howard, noting that it would prevent "unscrupulous" buyers from stepping in to purchase the land with the intention of reselling it to the city or the land trust for a higher price.

The land trust representatives explained that a deed restriction would mandate the site be used only for recreation, and that the park must be named after the current landowner’s mother, Lena Howard.

Janet Barton, wife of the Bellevue mayor, told the council she would lead a committee devoted to raising funds to execute the purchase. "We’re never going to have this opportunity again to have this type of riverfront property," she said.

As council members became reluctant to act on the resolution before them, Mayor Barton urged them to authorize the agreement with Howard.

Douthit cast the only vote against the plan. Last summer, he expressed concern that negotiations were being conducted outside of the public eye, and possibly at the expense of other parties interested in acquiring the Howard parcel.

After the meeting, Janet Barton reiterated her belief that the parcel is a "gem" that needs to be protected, and urged Wood River Valley residents interested in contributing money or time to the fundraising campaign to contact her.



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