900 acres on Chelan Butte is for sale… will the valley pitch in to purchase

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by Richard Uhlhorn

The City of Chelan
is interested in
purchasing 900 acres
on Chelan Butte
to preserve it for the Valley
in its natural condition

If you are interested in the purchase of this land
send your comments to
mcooney@cityofchelan.us

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From any angle Chelan Butte offers an imposing and beautiful view from Lake Chelan. The City is interested in preserving the Butte’s natual beauty by heading up an effort to purchase the 900 acres in private hands.

The City of Chelan and the newly formed Chelan Valley Trust would like to have the ability to purchase 900 acres on Chelan Butte. Called a part of the Open Space Vision, the purchase would have two major objectives; one to slice off 40 acres for affordable housing with the remaining 860 acres remaining undeveloped and kept open for recreational purposes.

Chelan Butte is an iconic low elevation peak on the south side of Chelan. It is considered by many as one of Chelan’s most cherished mountains. It’s beauty under different light is what the City would like to preserve.

The 900 acres sits on what is called the half Butte and has over the years been subjected to several real estate developers, but all efforts to develop the property have failed. The first major development considered was SnoCreek which would have been developed into a resort like setting with a ski-in facility from the top of the Butte to the property. John Walcker and Rick Bowles were the original entrepreneurs looking to develop the land.

When this development failed, Walcker continued his involvement with Real Estate Developer Jim Urness and a host of investors. Under this iteration, the half Butte would have become a resort community with a championship golf course, a gondola to a ridge top restaurant along with other amenities including a trail system. It also failed, leaving the half Butte undeveloped, but for sale by the land owner, Golden Gate Properties out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The asking price for the 900 acres is alleged to be $7 million, but Mayor Cooney, who has discussed his idea of taking the half-Butte of Golden Gate’s tax rolls with the owners, made the idea of purchasing the land to keep it in its natural state (with exception of the 40 acres) a goal for the entire Valley.

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The City’s Town Hall meeting on the purchase of the Butte was well attended and received.

he City held a well attended Town Hall meeting at the Senior Center on Monday, September 27th. Most people who attended this meeting were in favor of trying to purchase the land. Others worried that it would open up more development.

Mayor Cooney said, “This is not about making money… this is spiritual to the people in Chelan.”

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Mayor Mike Cooney called a Town Hall meeting to see what kind of interest there would be in purchasing the private property on the Butte.

Mayor Cooney introduced Guy Evans who used Google Earth to introduce the possibilities that lie within the 900 acre parcel. “I’ve walked, hiked or run on the Butte,” said Evans, who is currently at the forefront of the Lake Chelan Trails Alliance. “Open Space is all about the vision as it relates to trails. It is a critical time in the evolution of this valley.”

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Guy Evans introduced some Google Earth images to show where the 900 acres are located.

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This is a Google Earth view of the property that is for sale.

He described five potential hikes on the Butte and beyond to Bear Mountain and perhaps all the way to Stormy Mountain. “Visitors and residents would have a new hike every day. It is breathtaking.”

He also described the long standing efforts to open up more PUD land down by the river. “It is a small example of what the Alliance is working on now.”

“Why are we doing this,” Mayor Cooney asked? He described a parcel of land open to hiking and mountain biking. “The City can’t buy it,” he said. So he and others are looking for capital investment similar to what Wenatchee did in the Foothills system.

He’s hopeful that the Conservation District will be interested in investing along with people; not just residents of the Valley who want to preserve the Butte in its natural form, but others from outside the area that also want more recreational opportunities close to town and would be willing to donate some capital.

Stan Morse, a past Council member and local attorney, suggested that the City could devalue that 900 acres by de-annexing it. The last development group had the acreage annexed into the city. “That would bring the value down,” said Morse who was a major opponent to any real estate development on the Butte.

He also suggested that the Washington State Fish & Wildlife or some such agency might be interested in purchasing the property.

Mayor Cooney replied to Morse’s de-annexation proposal by saying he appreciated his thoughts, but “I’m not going to take the guy’s property.”

Meg Polley remarked that there is real value to the land. “Trails last forever as long as they are used.”

Councilwoman Kelly Allen suggested that the City’s hired lobbying group take the idea to the State Legislature and try to get a down payment on the property to tie it up for a year while the Valley fine tunes the financing of the purchase.

Cooney also assured those in attendance and others that the City is not and will not propose a property tax. “We are not going to do that.”

Another suggestion was to explore the possibility of a Recreational Taxing District in the Valley to help pay for the property along with other recreational opportunities.

Allen’s suggestion did make it to the Draft 2019-2021 Legislative Priorities as the No. 2 item on the City’s list. It asks that the Legislature provide $4 million in capital budget funding for the conservation of 890 acres of Chelan Butte.

It was brought up as a part of the City Council’s workshop on priority issues with Josh Weiss and Traver Justin of Gordon Thomas Honeywell. Josh Weiss told the Council and staff that while the state has more money coming in, there are a lot of requests for that money.

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Josh Weiss and Traver Justin represent the City in Olympia and will be taking a final approved Legislative Priority List to the State Capital.

“The Legislators have a billion things coming at them,” said Weiss. He suggested the City par its list down to 3, 4 or 5 priorities. He felt that a $4 million ask for the Butte purchase was probably too big a request.

At the last City Council meeting on October 9, the Butte priority was discussed.

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Councilwoman Erin McCardle wants to see an approved 2019-2021Legislative Priority List before adopting a resolution approving it.

Councilwoman Erin McCardle was uncomfortable with the list. “We haven’t even approved the Legislative agenda yet.

City Administrator Mike Jackson said the priority list would be back on the agenda on the 23rd

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Councilman Ray Dobbs wants to see the public more engaged in the potential Butte land purchase.

Councilman Ray Dobbs said he had attended the Town Hall meeting, but wants to see Butte purchase idea brought to more of the public. “Get it out in the media before we go forward,” said Dobbs. “I think there was pretty broad support,” he added.

Councilwoman Wendy Isenhart stated that $4 million was a huge ask. “Is is necessary to be so specific,” she asked? Jackson replied that the verbiage can be revised. “I’ll talk to them (the lobbyist) about the amount.”

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Councilman Tim Hollingsworth 

Councilman Tim Hollingsworth said that the purpose of the draft resolution in front of the Council was to show that that the City is supporting acquiring the property. “We are looking for acquisition and protection of that property.

State Senator Brad Hawkins was at the Town Hall meeting and emailed Mayor Cooney his thoughts which in part stated: “I would characterize the response by the people at the meeting as very supportive. The more challenging question is what percentage is in favor of the City purchasing and preserving the Butte. Or securing the Butte by providing a 50 percent local match.”

He also suggested that the City should announce that it will be accepting public comments on the draft resolution.

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The Resolution will be coming back in front of the Council on October 23 beginning at 6 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend. However, if you would like to comment on the potential purchase of the Chelan Butte property, Email your comments to Mayor Cooney at mcooney@cityofchelan.us.

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