ARLINGTON – Country Charm Recreation and Conservation Area, the largest reigning jewel in Arlington’s parks system at 140 acres, is also its least accessible.
That could soon change.
Skagit Valley-based Landed Gentry Homes and Communities is studying the potential to build 53 town houses on about 20 acres along a narrow ridge line east of Gilman Avenue that would overlook the bucolic farmland purchased in 2010 from the Hank Graastra family, owners of Country Charm Dairy.
Before residents cast the project as another Arlington farm going by the wayside for more housing, city officials are quick to remind that the area has been zoned for housing over the past 30 years.
City Administrator Paul Ellis said when the property was originally incorporated into the city’s urban growth area, the uplands were zoned for high density residential housing, while the low-lying areas were designated for moderate density, “which is kind of hard to believe” considering the risk for flooding in the winter with its proximity to the south fork of the Stillaguamish River.
While the purchase of the property added park and open space to the city’s inventory and helped prevent the lowlands from becoming homes or apartments, it also came with water rights that were tied to the once active dairy.
The park property east of Highway 530 and Lincoln Bridge features 100 acres of open space and 40 acres of wetlands and riparian habitat.
“It’s rare today that a city can pick up that much riverfront property for parks,” Ellis said.
Future plans include a seasonal campground, beach access to a bend in the river safer for swimming, perimeter trails, an off-leash dog area, fishing pond, community garden and gated public parking, said Marc Hayes, community and economic development director. The site already offers a dozen walk-in campsites on the north end of the property.
Perhaps the area’s most valuable and picturesque asset is a flat, wide open grassy area below the uplands that could be used for large festivals, concerts or other events that need lots of space, while the city pursues recreational funding for ballfields.
But none of these plans can move forward without public access, Hayes said.
“This will be ideal because of all the open space in the lowlands, so we’re working with the developer right now to make sure we have access to it, to make that area down below usable in the future,” he said.
Currently, the way in is a dirt road extension of Gilman that ends at the fields.
The builder estimates the buyer-owned units would range from 1,900 to 2,300 square feet, and aimed at homeowners who prefer scant backyards that don’t require much mowing and yardwork.
The upland property near the existing Country Charm barn also includes property zoned for neighborhood commercial at Alcazar Avenue, such as a convenience store or day care center, but the developer has no plans for it.
Landed Gentry Homes is currently evaluating soils and critical slopes along the property, evaluating the wetland areas and other studies.
If they decide that the project is feasible and sensible, they would apply for permits in the fall, set a neighborhood meeting and public hearing as part of the public participation process, with construction as early as next summer.