Goodbye to the Blueberry Farm? – UPDATED!

Most residents of this area know of the 40-acre blueberry bog on Steamboat Island Road. It is on the right as you drive north on the peninsula in the vicinity of 49th Lane. It has been a U-Pick or free pick community resource for decades. St. Christopher Church’s Annual Blueberry festival began with church members picking at the blueberry bog.

There are two owners of parcels involved in development plans. MC Construction (working for the owners, Michelle and Danaher Dempsey) and an organization calling itself Blueberry Farms, LLC (represented by Michael Welter) is now in the process of gaining approval for 8 large houses to be clustered on the forested upland portion of the blueberry farm. This is that beautiful section of Evergreen woods that you can see emerging from the blueberry fields at the North center of the bog.

Click here to view copies of the two applications associated with these projects.

Developers plan to log the woods, approximately 8 acres of them, which is where the houses will be built.

Last year the developers created a site plan that showed eight home lots plus two large resource parcels (the blueberry fields themselves), which they intended to donate to a nonprofit so that it could remain a community blueberry farm forever.

Unfortunately, at some point and for some reason not known to us, MC Construction changed their mind and submitted development plans that call for the blueberry fields to be divided into two parcels, each of which includes a small portion of high ground so that a house can be built on it.

In other words, the blueberry fields are about to become someone’s back yard.

To see MC Construction’s web page, promoting this project, click here.

A while back, at the time the blueberry farm owner applied for open space tax designation, the County put a public access requirement on the blueberry fields for the purpose of allowing blueberry picking. However, it appears that loophole clauses (which allow exceptions in the event of owner liability concerns, etc.) will make it unlikely that public access will actually occur once the two parcels belong to individual homeowners.

This could happen prior to this years’ picking season.

Please spread the word that our beloved community farm is endangered.

Because the development was submitted as two separate 4-lot short plats rather than one 8-lot long plat, there is comparatively little opportunity for public input.

However, a flood of letters might get their attention.

UPDATED July 1:

Your comments have helped! The County has transferred both applications to the City of Lacey, for review (since Mr. Welter, one of the applicants involved, is also the County’s Director of Development Services).

Please write or e-mail the new planner in charge of the development:
Ryan Andrews, Associate Planner
City of Lacey Community Development
PO Box 3400
Lacey, WA 98509
Phone: (360) 491-5642
Fax: (360) 438-2669
randrews@ci.lacey.wa.us

Mention the two project numbers: 2005103734 and 2005103728

As the City of Lacey to:

  • Be fair and impartial: Start the development approval process over from the beginning.
  • Specify that the blueberry bog be permanently preserved as community open space.
  • Require that the blueberry fields be platted as separate un-developable critical areas tracts.
  • Require a conservation easement for the blueberry fields to be held by a nonprofit or govt. entity

Ask to be added to the notification list.

Ask that your comments be put on the record for all permit applications associated with the projects. Pending permits include road clearing and grading, forestland conversion, short plat, and SEPA determination. There may be others as well.

You may want also to contact MC Construction to let them know how you feel about their change of plans:

MC Construction Consultants, Inc
PO Box 8478
Lacey, WA 98509
(360) 456-6307
julie@mcconstruction.com

UPDATED June 20: Click here for a copy of our flyer regarding this development. Thank you for any assistance you can provide with the distribution of this flyer to your neighbors and to local organizations with which you may be affiliated.

UPDATED June 30: The Thurston County Agricultural Advisory Committee has weighed in with a letter expressing concern over the use and access of the portions of the blueberry farm contained within the two resource parcels of these development applications. Read their letter here.

Thanks for taking the time to preserve what’s good about our neighborhood.

Posted in Uncategorized.

9 Comments

  1. Here’s the actual history: for many years the Dempseys owned the land and gave informal permission for its use. Then more recently for several years the Dempsey’s provided a $1 per year lease to the Farmland Trust in order to facilitate public access. The farmland trust in exchange provided liability insurance and pruning workparties at the bog.

    Then Thurston County decided to go after the Dempsey’s for back taxes since the land was in Ag open space and the County decided the land didn’t qualify for that exemption.

    That’s when the Dempsey’s decided to allign with MC Construction. With the help of MC Construction the Dempsey’s applied to put the blueberry fields into a different open space tax designation. Public access for blueberry picking is required as part of that new open space tax designation agreement. I’ve read the agreement. Public access to the blueberry fields is REQUIRED at this time.

    So, people are participating in the public input process as is their right, in order to RETAIN public access, not get public access for the first time.

    No one has ever claimed that the land is in public ownership, it is not.

  2. The ironic aspect of this entire debate is regarding the loss of public access to the blueberry bog. The reason that this is rather amusing is that even in the past this land has NOT been public land. Although community members and organizations have been accessing the blueberries for their personal use/ selling them for profit, what people need to realize is that they have been using PRIVATE land. With further investigation people will find that they are arguing over something that has never been rightfully theirs. So while people are up in arms about MC construction and Michael Welter revoking their rights to what they believe is public land, in actuality it is not, so therefore they are fighting for something that they were never legally entitled to. So before people get angry over “word of mouth” allegations maybe they should do some research. Come on people let’s be informed before we go off “half-cocked” and generate conflict.

  3. I have another perspective on this.

    First I don’t think anyone is saying that Michael Welter is or isn’t a good person. He just happens to be the legal owner of half the blueberry bog so his name comes up when discussing ownership of the farm.

    People who want to see the blueberry fields remain publicly accessible are only asking that the government invoke provisions already in the laws at the state and county level.

    The two owners of the blueberry farm have applied for two cluster developments. This will allow them to build 8 houses on land that would otherwise support perhaps two houses in the one unit per five acre zone. That’s because most of the land is wetlands and under water much of the year, not developable.

    In exchange for the privilege of being able to cluster develop, which adds perhaps a million dollars to the value of the owner’s property (wouldn’t that be nice!), they are required by county zoning law to set aside a portion of the land (the undevelopable wetlands) as resource parcels. It seems like a very fair trade to me!

    Under existing County zoning laws, the County has the authority to require a conservation easement on resource parcels. In this case the County has so far declined to require a conservation easement.

    Asking the County to require a conservation easement is not coming out of left field. Its a reasonable request that the County invoke an existing provision of their zoning code.

    When the County provides a private individual or corporation with a huge increase in the monetary value of their property, its reasonable for the County to require a some public benefit in exchange.

    As far as public access goes, it could be specified as part of a conservation easement, but it could also be required as a part of SEPA (Washington State Environmental Policy Act).

    The original announcement from the County regarding SEPA indicated they intended to require public access to the blueberry fields as part of SEPA.

    Ryan Andrews who is processing the application, removed that language when he issued the SEPA decision. His reason was that he felt public access is already required by the open space tax designation of the blueberry fields.

    However, since the open space tax designation is voluntary, the owners can remove the property at any time and eliminate the public access requirement. Recent communications between MC Construction and the County seem to indicate that that is what they are about to do.

    For those who feel there should be a balance between private wealth generation and public good, including language through SEPA that requires public access to the blueberry fields is balanced by the County providing the landowners with a tremendous increase in the market value of their land. This seems like a win win situation to me.

  4. Of course, the GNA cannot demand public access to private property. However, the GNA and other organizations have, for quite a while, been in intermittent contact with the previous owners of the property, regarding whether public access, continued maintenance and the purchase of insurance could be secured for the portions of the property which are already a protected wetland. This is the blueberry bog. Those discussions are ongoing and the new developers have shown an interest in an arrangement which will mutually – read that again – mutually benefit both the public and the future owners of both resource parcels which share the blueberry bog.

    Don’t get your blood pressure up, protectmyland, over a specific situation which it appears you actually know very little about.

    There is no property owner to be martyred here, and no property “takings” either. After all, the GNA is solely comprised of local property owners.

  5. This whole issue is a private property issue. Where do the people of the GNA get the right to demand public access to private property? Are these members ready to allow people looking for some good shellfish to use their property to dig it? The assumption is no. Therefore how can GNA think they have a right to force a private developer to provide public accces to their property?
    Where are we going with this philosophy? Where will it end? Is private property ownership a lost art for our children?

  6. treehugger82 is right; Mr. Welter is a fine person. However, Thurston County believes it is important to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest and so they transferred the application to the City of Lacey. While it’s great to hear that treehugger82 is confident public access will be maintained, there was nothing except contradictory information – and no guarantees – in the applications that would indicate that public access would continue to be permitted. However, meetings between the developer, the GNA and the Community Land Trust have occured and may result in a legal agreement. I’ll take a legal agreement regarding access over treehugger82’s confidence. In fact, treehugger82, without a legal agreement, the property owner can easily deny access.

    Of course, none of us can, as treehugger82 says, “do whatever we want with our property.” Ah, the burdens of living within social structures. . .

    Thanks to the work by the GNA, Community Land Trust and others in the neighborhood, including the developer and owners of the resource parcels, the blueberry farm may remain available and well-maintained.

  7. People need to start getting their facts straight. Michael Welter is just an innocent man who has done so much for the Griffin community. All he is doing is trying to build a house for goodness sakes and if that’s a crime then God help me now. The Welters are only currently holding the property for the Demseys. Just because the man is involved in the permitting department does not mean that he forced the people to sign the permits. He is the director. I mean come on people!!!!!! The Demseys can do with their property whatever they want to. The Blueberry patch will still always be there for public use and no one can stop that. That place has been a treasured possesion by the community for as long as anyone can remember and just because houses are going next to it doesn’t mean that it will be destroyed. It will be there for the island community forever and for always.

  8. For some of us, the issue is about a promise kept. The GNA had an agreement, including to purchase liability insurance, in order to permit public access to the blueberry bog (which ought not to be built upon, anyway). The property owner ought not to sell the blueberry bog. To be blunt, the blueberry bog ought not be in private hands. If your land was to be placed in trust, and instead you sold it, you might expect those who sought to place the parcel into trust to kick up a fuss.

    To make matters more complicated, some of us feel this plays into wider issues related to who owns and benefits from the so-called “resource parcel” in any PRRD. Too much propery, hereabouts, is being referred-to as a “resource parcel” but is, instead, being used as a septic drainfield or a stormwater settling pond. Not at all what we want from something the County calls a “resource parcel.”

  9. My family and friends have also enjoyed u-pick and free blueberries over the years. I would like to thank the owners for allowing us this privilege. I was shocked when I read the GNA poster hoping to interfere with private property owner right so that a handful of people can continue to enjoy their outings. We should be grateful for the time that we have had and wish these people godspeed in their next endeavor. I hope that noone would come to my home and determine that it would be better used for someone elses desires over mine and be taken.

Comments are closed.