Politics & Government

Pierce County in talks to buy one-third of an acre in its own parking lot at Sprinker Recreation Center

Pierce County is in the peculiar position of trying to buy back one-third of an acre of land in its own parking lot at Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway — and not for the first time.

The county has used the section for parking since Sprinker was built nearly 40 years ago.

Central Pierce Fire & Rescue is in talks to sell the land, which holds eight parking spaces, back to the county.

The former Spanaway Fire Department purchased the land from the county in 1981 for $36,153.96 with the intent of building a fire station there. The county liked the idea of a 24-hour public safety presence to respond to emergencies and discourage vandalism at Sprinker.

Central Pierce Fire & Rescue was formed from the merger of Spanaway Fire and other departments in 1996. Central Pierce later built a station a couple of blocks away from the Sprinker property.

In 2004, the parks and recreation department agreed to to buy the land from Central Pierce for $162,000. But the county stalled and never completed the purchase, questioning whether it needed the area.

The fire district’s asking price this time: $129,500.

The county is securing an appraisal. The land is assessed at $99,900.

The county owns and operates Sprinker Recreation Center. The strip of land makes up the west corner of Sprinker’s parking lot, bordering on Bresemann Forest and the entrance to Spire Rock and baseball fields.

Central Pierce is giving the county the first right of refusal. The department has allowed the county to use the land for parking at no cost for years.

Deputy Chief Baron Banks said Central Pierce wants to sell the land for fair market value to the county.

“We don’t want anything more or anything less,” Banks said. “We want to do the right thing and be good community partners.”

The land’s zoning, called residential resource, limits uses of the property without a variance or rezone.

But parks and recreation Director Tony Tipton said the parks department wants to purchase the property and prevent something incompatible from going in.

“We believe it’s in our best interests to acquire the property and keep Sprinker operating as it is today,” Tipton said.

The parcel is “smack in the middle” of county property, with Lake Spanaway Golf Course and Spanaway Park on the other side of Military Road South, Tipton said.

The county’s last attempt to purchase the property in 2004 proved controversial. The parks director signed a purchase and sale agreement for $162,000 — the midpoint of competing appraisals.

But the purchase agreement stalled in the office of then-county Executive John Ladenburg. Lyle Quasim, Ladenburg’s chief of staff, questioned in early 2005 whether the county needed the land and said the parks department could use the money for other things.

The fire district put a fence around the property and a “for sale” sign in front.

Banks said that dispute is now “water under the bridge.”

He said the fire district is paying taxes on an asset it will never use.

“Where our stations are located with the merger, we don’t need that piece of land,” Chief Keith Wright said. “I’m trying to get it off of our plate.”

Tipton said any agreement would be contingent upon money for the purchase being included in the county’s budget for 2015.

If the county doesn’t buy the property, Banks said the fire district would probably put the land back on the open market.