Friday, August 10, 2018

Olympia To Consider Spooner Berry Farm Land Purchase

Above: Mona Michaelis of Spooner Berry Farms was doing brisk business at the farm stand on Yelm Highway Friday afternoon. The Olympia city council will consider the purchase of the 83-acre parcel on Yelm Highway for a future community park.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was just a matter of time.

The Olympia City Council will consider the purchase of an 83-acre parcel, home of Spooner Berry Farms at 3323 Yelm Highway SE., at its regular meeting August 21.

The cost of the property will be $10.7 million.

The fact that the city has had its eye on the farmland for future public use as a community park has perhaps been one of the city’s worst kept secrets.

In a 2014 city assessment of undeveloped land within the city’s urban growth area, the Yelm Highway parcel stood out.

City negotiations with property owner Jim Zahn have been underway for several months.

For years, the Zahn family has leased the property to Spooner Berry Farms, who uses it for a U-Pick strawberry farm and berry stand.

Spooner’s operates multiple berry farms in the area, but as the county's population increases, acreage for farmland in Thurston County decreases.

The county has lost over 75 percent of its working agricultural lands since the mid-1950s, when Thurston County was primarily farmland. 

According to a 2015 study by the Thurston County Planning Council, 6,500 acres of farmland has been lost to development since 2000 and 22,600 acres are at risk of being lost to development.

The average age of a farmer in Thurston County is 58.9 years old and seventy percent of farmland is expected to change ownership in the next 20 years.

There are no immediate plans for the proposed future park.

Above: The 83 acre farmland on Yelm Highway in Olympia.

Future Park

The community identified the acquisition of a large, community park site for soccer fields as a high priority in the 2010 and 2016 Parks, Arts and Recreation Plans, said a city press release.

In 2004, the community voted for a parks and sidewalks funding measure that included parks acquisition. The proposed purchase moves the city closer to the goal stated in that measure of increasing the city park system by 500 acres.

If the Zahn property is acquired, the city will have acquired 440 acres since 2004.

The city says a parcel the size of the Yelm Highway site could accommodate several full-size soccer fields and associated support facilities. It could also accommodate additional community park amenities, from community gardens and trails to sports fields and courts.

The city would begin a planning process in 2019 and seek the community’s input as part of the process.  Park development would likely be done in phases, with the first phase tentatively scheduled for 2024.

The city says it is interested in developing a relationship with Spooner Berry Farms and would continue to lease to the business prior to park development.

Mona Michaelis, a lead employee at Spooner Berry Farms, has worked for the Spooner family for 16 years and hopes the news doesn’t hurt business. 

As customers jumped out of their cars and got in line at the farm stand, she said, We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We have two weeks left for the blueberries and one week left for marionberries!”