Community Environment

PenMet buying land to expand sandspit park on Fox Island

Posted on July 26th, 2022 By:

The PenMet Parks board voted at a special meeting Monday to move forward with the purchase of property abutting Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve on the northern tip of Fox Island.

The two skinny, side-by-side parcels that stretch from Island Boulevard to Carr Inlet total 3.56 acres. They are mostly wooded with some steep slopes, 265 feet of waterfront and westward views of Key Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains.

The purchase price would be $2.5 million. Pierce County assesses the value at $2.2 million.

“Having had an opportunity to have a conversation with staff and walk the site, I am supportive of the opportunity,” said Board of Commissioners President Steve Nixon. “The wishes of the property owners have been an important element of the process.”

Fox Island sandspit beach where it would be extended with more property

The purchase would extend the public beach 265 feet to the southwest, past this cabin and another one.

All five PenMet commissioners voted to move ahead with the purchase.

Property owner would like it to be a public asset

Property owner Fox Go Bye Bye, LLC, of Tacoma expressed an interest in selling to PenMet in the spring.

“They indicated their interest in selling it to PenMet Parks,” Executive Director Ally Bujacich said after the meeting. “They indicated to us they’d like to see it be available for public use.”

Looking southwest from the sandspit park toward the potential new addition. Key Peninsula is in the distance.

Looking southwest from the sandspit park toward the potential new addition. Key Peninsula is in the distance.

PenMet is applying for a grant from the new Opportunity Account program of Pierce County Conservation Futures. It will ask for the full 90 percent of purchase price. New Opportunity grants allow districts to pursue “exceptional conservation futures properties” that become available outside of the normal biannual selection process that won’t be viable by the beginning of the next application period, according to Conservation Futures Coordinator Katherine Brooks.

The grant requires at least a 10 percent match. The parks district can achieve that with its own funds or through another grant, Bujacich said.

Next steps for PenMet

The deal is contingent upon Pierce County approving the grant funding and PenMet determining that the property is suitable for its intended use. The process is expected to take up to 18 weeks.

The uses include public access to saltwater shoreline, passive recreation such as hiking trails, and protecting open space and shoreline that might otherwise be lost to development. The property checks many boxes in the district’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, Bujacich said.

“It really supports a lot of the recommendations and objectives that the PROS plan contains — expanded saltwater beachfront, conserving open space, expanded water recreation, potential passive recreation,” she said.

Two cabins would be acquired in the purchase.

Two cabins would be acquired in the purchase.

Each parcel includes a 760-square-foot cabin built in 1950. The park district’s due diligence will include determining how to use them. It will also look at parking.

“The bottom line is this exciting opportunity does drive forward many of the community’s priorities identified in the PROs program,” said Bujacich, including expanding park access in areas of need, such as Fox Island. “It really hits a lot of those needs.

“Now we move on to due diligence, and obtaining funding is key, but what a huge benefit for the community.”

Special meeting kept process moving along

Commissioners participated remotely in the 10-minute meeting. Bujacich and three staff members conducted it from the Gig Harbor Civic Center. A reporter and one other person attended.

The purchase was discussed during executive session at the July 19 regular board meeting. The closed session was held because “public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price.”

Why was the special meeting necessary, when the next regular board meeting is Aug. 2? The board faced a deadline to approve the agreement and “keep the process moving forward,” Bujacich said.

PenMet Park's Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve.

PenMet Park’s Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve.

The district, which formed in 2004, purchased the sandspit site from Tacoma DeMolay in 2010. It has maintained the property, but hasn’t made significant improvements.

A dilapidated old house ringed by caution tape and a mossy-roofed concrete block building need attention. PenMet has budgeted $245,000 this year to remove the house and a storage shed, and possibly build a picnic shelter. In 2023, it plans to spend about $1 million to renovate the building.

A group called Parks for Fox Island, alleging a lack of investment and poor communication, is proposing to leave the parks district and obtain the sandspit, a fishing pier and boat launch from PenMet.