The old farm and its 80 acres of pasture, wetlands and wildlife habitat will be purchased by an Issaquah couple who want to preserve it as open space. A developer was exploring building 16 luxury homes on the site.
Winterbrook Farm and its 80 acres of pastures, wetlands and wildlife habitat near Issaquah will be purchased by a couple who own adjacent land and plan to preserve it as open space. The Issaquah School Board approved the sale Friday afternoon in a special meeting.
Bellevue developer William E. Buchan Inc. notified the district Tuesday that it would not pursue its plans to build 16 luxury homes on the site, which is frequented by a local elk herd and is directly across May Valley Road from Squak Mountain State Park.
“I’m very happy and relieved. This is very, very good news,” said Val Moore, a neighbor who helped rally the community to preserve the former dairy and its 1930s barn.
Directors of the Issaquah School District, which owns the property, accepted an offer from Erik and Jennifer Johnson, who own a house on 40 acres just north of the farm. The sale price was $4.17 million. The couple made the backup offer in February and said through their real-estate agent at the time that they were interested in preserving the land and the wildlife corridor.
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The Johnsons could not be reached for comment Friday.
King County officials had hoped to be able to purchase the property if the Buchan deal fell through. But a spokesman said it’s still possible for the county to buy a conservation easement that would take away the property’s development potential in exchange for lower taxes for the owner.
With the owners’ concurrence, a conservation easement would also allow other uses the county was considering for the property, including wetland restoration, farming and a trail, said Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks spokesman.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who had conversations with Buchan and the group trying to save the farm, praised the outcome.
“If we can save the taxpayers the cost of the property and still accomplish the preservation goals, that’s a good deal for everyone,” Dunn said.
Neighbors argued that the 80-acre site could help connect trails on Squak and Cougar Mountains to Cedar River trails about 3 miles away. Additional private property would have to be acquired to complete the connection.
Issaquah Schools purchased the farm in 2006 for $3.3 million and planned to build a middle school and an elementary school on the site. But those plans were stymied when the county concluded in 2012 that the Growth Management Act required new schools be built within cities and not in the county’s rural areas.
The county offered to purchase the 80-acre property last year, before it was listed for sale, but only offered $2.1 million, the amount of its appraised value at the time. Buchan offered $4.16 million, and the School Board accepted the offer in October.
Buchan’s offer was contingent on the results of feasibility studies that included potential mitigation measures to protect the wetlands and streams. The developer was also analyzing the potential impacts to the herd of about 30 Rocky Mountain elk that travel across the property and graze there year round.
On Thursday, Greg Nelson, Buchan director of land development, said the results of the feasibility studies could have forced the company to renegotiate the sale terms and price of the property with the school district.
“We’re stepping back from it,” Nelson said. The company did submit a backup offer, saying they would again consider purchasing it if the deal with the Johnsons fell through.
The Issaquah Press reported in February that a private party was prepared to submit an offer for the farm that had no financial contingency and no feasibility study. Lisa Lam, the Windermere agent representing the anonymous private party, said Thursday that she had hoped her clients’ involvement “would remain private a little longer.”
But the School Board on Thursday published on its website a new resolution authorizing the sale that listed the Johnsons as the new buyers.