Bonney Lake plans to bring ‘thumb’ into fold

When viewed on a map, the city of Bonney Lake is shaped something like a “C,” with city limits encompassing nearly the entire region from the southern part of Lake Tapps to South Prairie Road with one exception: an area of land right in the middle.

Known colloquially as “the Thumb” because of its shape, the land is the home of the Kelley Farm and the fields surrounding it.

But though it is situated in unincorporated Pierce County and has never been part of the city’s Urban Growth Area, the city is looking into purchasing two of the three pieces of land that make up the property.

According to discussions at the City Council retreat Feb. 25, the city has been in negotiations with owner Scott Corliss for some time and had several near-deals fall through in recent months.

The city is looking to acquire most of the low-lying farm land that surrounds the house, including the back section to the north and the large, field area to the east of the house, where the Washington State Renaissance Faire set up camp last summer.

The northern property, known as the ACI piece, is part of a conservation futures grant that would see the county paying for half of the cost. The property owner has told the city they would have to buy the 56-acre Perfield parcel to the east as well.

Mayor Neil Johnson said at least four different deals seemed to have been in place in the past five months before falling apart at the last minute before they could be brought to the council.

“Things change, people change their minds and come back with a different offer,” Johnson said.

The mayor said the biggest sticking point is the desire by the current owner to continue using the land for his profit, even after the city purchases it.

“Corliss still thinks he owns the property after the city buys it,” Johnson told the council.

Johnson said Corliss presently has events scheduled for the land, but was also seeking to use it for 20 weeks each year for the next 10 years, something in which he did not see as much value for the citizens.

“Wait a minute, when’s the city going to use that property?” he asked rhetorically.

Johnson said the city in February provided Corliss with their final offer and he had until March 2 to respond. No response was received at the city.

Corliss could not be reached for comment.

Administration officials said negotiations with Corliss have been historically difficult both for them and for other entities negotiating for parts of the land. According to Facilities and Special Projects Manager Gary Leaf, the state tried to purchase a swath of land along Fennel Creek for mitigation and efforts but gave up on negotiations and went through the condemnation process to acquire the land.

Council members told the administration that despite the difficulties, the two available pieces were important to the city and they should continue pursuing the land, especially the ACI piece, which would cost the city a “little over half” of the value of the land due to the conservation futures program that would see the county contribute $480,000 toward the purchase.

“It’s still way important to the city,” Council member Jim Rackley said.

The administration expects to present the council with a final offer for approval in the next few weeks.