County, developer reach Snake Lake agreement

Thirteen acres of property in the heart of Tacoma near Snake Lake have been saved from certain development and preserved as a sanctuary for people and wildlife, according to action taken by the Pierce County Council May 2. The move brought together the Metro Parks Tacoma, City of Tacoma neighborhood groups, developers, and the council, and culminated in a ceremonial deed presentation from Councilmember Tim Farrell to Metro Parks Board President Aaron Pointer.

“This was an amazing opportunity to preserve 13 acres of pristine open space in the middle of a city,” Farrell said.

The property consisted of several parcels purchased over time by developer Joe Mayer of Jemstone LLC, who proposed four years ago developing 800 dwelling units and medical/professional offices. The prospect of development created concern for local residents and friends of the adjacent Tacoma Nature Center.

The concern culminated in a request to the Cascade Land Conservancy to help find a way for the public to buy the property and add it to the Nature Center. The CLC sponsored an application to Pierce County Conservation Futures, which was well received by both the Technical Advisory Committee and the Citizens Advisory Board for Conservation Futures, scoring 10th out of 49 projects that were reviewed.

The Pierce County Council approved the purchase, along with 40 other projects. Mayer and Jemstone agreed to negotiate with Conservation Futures and see if a sale could be agreed to. After waiting a year for the Conservation Futures process to conclude in an offer and negotiating over several weeks, Mayer and Pierce County struck a deal and the property was purchased for $6 million effective May 2. Conservation Futures bond money provided $5.405 million with the Metro Parks Tacoma adding $500,000 and the City of Tacoma, $100,000.

“It was very difficult to get here, but thankfully we had the collective vision of determined neighborhood leaders and a property owner who was willing to sacrifice his initial vision of the property for the greater good of our community,” Farrell said.

Snake Lake is characterized as a green space by the park district and functions as a natural preserve for people and wildlife. “We will work with the community to develop a master plan update to the Tacoma Nature Center that includes the 13-acre addition,” said Ryan Mello, board commissioner for Metro Parks.

The Tacoma Nature Center now consists of 70 acres of forest, field and wetland and is visited annually by 65,000 people. The 13-acre addition is east of Snake Lake and comprises the valley that is viewed from the intersection of South 19th and Proctor streets.