A once private beach on Lopez will soon be public, thanks to county council’s decision to purchase10 acres of Lopez land, known as the Clure property.
“This is bringing us to a conclusion to a process that started in April of 2016,” said San JuanCounty Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann at the June 6 council meeting. “We are now roughly20 public meetings from that starting point.”
Land Bank officials want to own the land on the west side of Lopez to provide public access to theroughly 450-foot long beach, which is currently private.
For 10 property owners, the purchase means the loss of their exclusive beach and access to itthrough their private, shared easement. The easement, called Meadow Lane, runs through theClure property, but the 10 landowners can legally use it to reach the beach. With the purchase, theLand Bank can do the same, attests Bormann.
“Meadow Lane will continue to be a private road,” Bormann told the Journal. “The Land Bank willhave an easement to use it just as any other property owners might.”
Once construction is complete, islanders and visitors can take Shark Reef Road to Meadow Lane toenter a parking lot on the eastern side of the property. From there, they can walk on the lane tothe beach, creating as much traffic as any private land owner, assured Borman.
Land Bank officials originally wanted to use the nearby Eagle Roost Lane as the main access, butcouldn’t receive permission for public use from the road’s owner, the Lopez Island Airport.
Larry Bailey, who shares the easement, thinks minimal traffic on the road will be unlikely. EvenLopez’s Point Colville, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, has about 3,500visitors, annually, he told the Journal. There are no signs advertising the trail from the road; nonewill be at the Clure property either.
Yet, the Clure property is unlikely to be as well known as Point Colville, said Bormann. Colville ispart of the San Juan Island Monument, which is protected land commissioned by the U.S.President. If the visitor counts are equal, which Bormann estimated that could be, about ninepeople will visit the site a day on average, with more in the summer than winter.
Neighbors, like Bailey, wanted concerns like increased traffic addressed before the purchase.
“We’ve basically gone through a charade of meetings where it was pretty obvious that the decisionhad already been made,” Bailey told the Journal. “We feel our property rights have been violated.”
To address neighbors’ concerns, Bormann said Land Bank officials will spend two years creating amanagement plan, while the area will be closed to the public. Management plans are written formost Land Bank purchases and include a description of the preserve and supervision goals,including creating public access like trails and parking lots.
A year will be spent observing wildlife in the location, which is longer than the typical process.Then an ecological assessment will be performed. Once a draft plan is written, it will be open forpublic comment, said Bormann.
“I really want to take the time to protect the resources,” he told the Journal.
Land Bank officials are also asking neighbors for permission to build an accessible trail along thepublic section of their beaches. Bormann expects to secure one easement soon, which would allowthe public to walk almost a mile north, starting from the purchased land.
Property below the state beach’s high-tide mark of 7.1 feet is public, and property above it isprivate and belongs to the landowner, he explained.
Bailey told the Journal that the public section of tidelands is mostly underwater, meaning mostbeach-goers will opt to use the higher, private sections.
A website for opponents of the purchase, at savelopezshoreline.org, states the area is also“inaccessible from land” to extinguish fires or handle other emergencies. Bormann noted thatwhile fire trucks couldn’t drive to the beach on the narrow Meadow Lane, they could still reach it.Fire concerns would be included in the management plan, he added.
Since the public hearing on the purchase last January, Bormann said Land Bank officials have heldmonthly meetings about the issue and approved to purchase the land at the April meeting, whichhad about 80 attendees.
That marked a year since Land Bank officials first mentioned purchasing the property. Bailey saidhe hadn’t heard of the plan until about five months later, at a November Land Bank meeting onLopez, where, according to Bormann, about 60 people attended.
The Clure property, titled after its owners’ surname, has been for sale, intermittently, for about a decade, estimated Bormann.
Councilman Jamie Stephens suggested neighbors’ complaints would be the same, no matter who owned the land.
“Their concerns are the same concerns they should be having right now, without us owning the property,” he said.
Before the vote, Stephens noted that he donated to the $50,000 Land Bank officials requested togo towards the purchase of the property’s southern parcel. The goal was reached in three weeks,said Bormann.
The southern parcel is 4.7 square acres and costs $360,000.The northern parcel is about five square acres and costs $410,000. Bormann said both parcels were appraised at market value.
Land Bank officials will pay for the land with the organization’s one percent tax on purchased property in the county, as well as state grants they will apply for in 2018. If the sale doesn’t go through, the $50,000 will be given to the seller of the property, said Bormann.
Bailey said he and other properties owners are consulting a lawyer about their options now thatthe purchase is moving forward. Talks with the county prosecuting attorney proved “there is littlebasis for a suit,” said Bormann.
Both sides seem to agree on one issue — the beach’s natural beauty is worth the fight.
“It’s an amazing to go down there,” Bormann said at the council meeting. “You pretty much feellike you are in some kind of undeveloped, pristine place.”