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King County buys majority of tree farm

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - King County Executive Ron Sims announced last week that the county would buy the development rights for 90,000 acres of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm from the Hancock Timber Resource Group for $22 million.

"This is a piece of land nearly twice the size of the city of Seattle and five times the size of Bellevue that will always be part of the rural character of East King County," said Sims. "The wall against sprawl we've spent years creating is now reinforced to forever protect East King County's quality of life. Instead of a suburb envisioned for this area two decades ago, we will leave a legacy of open space, timber jobs and a buffer for the Cascade wilderness for generations to come."

The tree farm was purchased by Hancock in 2003. The land was logged by Weyerhaeuser for nearly a century, but the timber giant announced in 2002 it would close its Snoqualmie mill by spring 2003. An original deal to sell the land to the Evergreen Forest Trust for $185 million never materialized due to a federal legislative stall over the financing deal. Weyerhaeuser sold the land to Hancock, who has continued to harvest at the farm.

The remaining portions of the 104,000-acre tree farm, that has not had its development rights purchased by the county, falls into three categories. The first is a 5,000-acre parcel at the north edge of the tree farm that is in Snohomish County. The second is a group of lots that total 7,000 acres, which Weyerhaeuser has the option to buy back. The remaining acres, which total around 450, are located around the south and west edge of the tree farm and will remain under the ownership of Hancock.

According to Hancock Western Regional Manager John Davis, Hancock plans on holding onto that land, which is already zoned for residential development. The land is zoned RA-5 and RA-10, which means one home for every five acres and one home for every ten acres can be built.

Davis said there have been no discussions on who would buy those parcels, but did say they would go to the highest bidder.

"We will sell those in the next couple of years," said Davis.

The conservation deal for the 90,000 acres must still be approved by the Metropolitan King County Council, which approved $15 million last fall to buy the development rights at the tree farm, but will need another $7 million.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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