A few miles away from busy Issaquah, on an 80-acre plot of pasture and forest just off of Southeast May Valley Road, salmon swim in streams, eagles fly overhead and a herd of 30 elk runs through the woods.
The land, known as the Winterbrook Farm property, sits relatively undeveloped, with little more than a barn built in 1930 and a farmhouse built in 1920 to remind neighbors of its history as a dairy farm.
However, the farmland could soon be home to a new housing development.
In October 2016, the Issaquah School District authorized the sale of the Winterbrook property to Bellevue-based builder William Buchan Homes. Carl Buchan, the company’s president, said the goal is to put 16 homes on the property.
“It’s a beautiful setting for a neighborhood … There’s lots of beautiful open space,” Buchan said.
But a group of locals is not ready to see the property fall into the hands of a developer.
About 40 community members from throughout the Issaquah and Renton areas have banded together to advocate for the farmland to be preserved.
Val Moore, a member of the Save Winterbrook Farm group and a resident of the Sunset Valley Farms neighborhood just west of the Winterbrook Farm, said that due to the extensive wildlife habitats on the property, the potential for the property’s use for recreational and agricultural purposes, and the historic significance of the barn, the property is too unique to simply become another neighborhood of high-end homes.
“That land should belong to the community — that land is so valuable in terms of wildlife, recreation and agriculture,” Moore said. “It should belong to the community and not 16 people.”
The school district originally bought the 80 acres for $3.33 million in 2006. Issaquah School Board President Lisa Callan said that the intent had been to put both an elementary and a middle school on the land, but that the Growth Management Act made this impossible.
“The Growth Management Act defined the urban growth boundary … and prevented us from building on [the land],” Callan stated.
“I don’t think the [district] did their homework when they bought this site,” Save Winterbrook group member David Kappler said. He explained that the land would not be an ideal choice for neither a school campus nor a housing development due to its proximity to the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, which can sometimes emit a smell of garbage throughout the property.
“The people living there are not going to be happy if they have that smell,” Kappler said.
Currently a feasibility study is being conducted to determine whether or not the land is suitable for such a development. Buchan said that the feasibility study will last until early May.
Moore said that the land presents the opportunity to connect the recreational trails on Tiger Mountain and Squak Mountain with the Log Cabin Reach Natural Area and the Cedar River Trail. She pointed out that King County has been looking for a way to connect the Issaquah Alps with the Cedar River Trail.
“This is our only opportunity to preserve that corridor,” she stated. “Once that’s gone, we’ve lost that corridor for wildlife and recreation. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
“It would be a shame to close off the opportunity of connecting the trails,” said Geri Potter, another group member. “It’s heartbreaking to think that they could do that.”
A variety of animals call the Winterbrook property home, according to Moore, including deer, elk, ducks, hawks, owls, coyotes, bears, bobcats and salmon, which swim in two streams on the property. Moore is concerned that cutting down the trees on the property will destroy the elk’s home, sending them permanently away from the area.
“You cut down the trees, there will be no more elk,” Moore said. “Three years of construction will destroy their whole habitat.”
“I certainly don’t see it as a place we want to put more people,” Kappler said.
Callan said that she and the other board directors were “certainly very sympathetic to the wildlife” on the property.
Buchan said that he was also concerned about the animal habitat, noting that “a lot of the layout we’re working on preserved a significant amount of open space.”
Moore also said that having construction trucks driving through the Sunset Valley Farms neighborhood throughout the years that would be needed to build the housing development would seriously impact the quality of life for her neighbors.
“It’s definitely a safety issue for the kids playing here,” she said. “It’s a very quiet neighborhood; there’s a lot of pedestrian activity and a lot of people with pets.”
The Save Winterbrook group would like to see King County purchase the property. The group members believe that this would fit right in line with the county’s Local Food Initiative, which aims to preserve county farmland and promote local farming so as to keep the agricultural economy robust and keep county residents healthy by increasing the amount of locally-grown produce available.
Moore said that the county had “really wanted to purchase [the property].”
“If it wasn’t leased for farming, it could be used as an educational center,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for that land to be used.”
“There is the potential for school field trips or restoration projects,” Kappler said.
The group also hopes to save the 87-year-old barn from being torn down and to preserve it as a historic landmark.
“We don’t have many old barns … it’s a definite treasure,” Moore said. She suggested using it as a building for educating school children and community members about agriculture.
Moore asks anyone interested in helping the Save Winterbrook movement to “write to the Issaquah School Board, to King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn and to King County Executive Dow Constantine, encouraging them to preserve the property for the whole community for future generations.”
“It takes a whole community of people to care, to protect and conserve,” Moore said. “You can’t do it alone.”