County Tall Chief Farm Sale to Keller Dairy Sparks Effort to Save Valuable Land for Organic, Community Farming

In 2013 King County purchased the former 190-acre Tall Chief Golf Course property and its development rights in Fall City for $4.5 million to protect the valuable farmland, describe by some as “The Jewel of the Snoqualmie Valley,” from being developed into an 18-home development.

In August 2014, King County then issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the sale or lease of that Tall Chief Farmland. The County sought proposals that would best use the assets of farmland to increase the amount of locally produced food and to support the growth of the local agriculture economy.

The Goals of the Tall Chief RFP

  • Return the former farm to an economically sustainable farming operation using sound agricultural soil and water conservation practices.
  • Encourage the development of processing and distribution capabilities for farm products from the Snoqualmie Valley.
  • Help farmers obtain high quality farmland as a means of furthering the citizen-supported goals of preserving farmland and maintaining viable agriculture in the County.
  • Increase opportunities for new and beginning farmers.
  • Strengthen the local food economy in the county through more food production and development of farm support businesses. • To offer opportunities to increase consumer appreciation for local food and public support for local farming.
  • Assist in the development of a stable agricultural economy in Snoqualmie Valley.
  • Protect and restore the soil, water, and forest resources on the site through stewardship.

The County received three proposals: Keller Dairy Farm, Seattle Tilth, which proposed a no-cost lease to develop a farm incubator program and Kou and Fong Cha which proposed to purchase about half of the property and farm 15 acres at a time.

According to the Proposal Evaluation Scores, it was a close call between Keller Dairy Farm and Seattle Tilth, but the County evaluation committee ultimately concluded the Keller Dairy proposal best met the criteria in the RFP.  The County is currently in the process of passing an ordinance that would sell the property to Keller for $720,000 – or just over a $3.7 million loss, which presumably could be made up when the county sells  land’s transferable development rights in the future.

According to King County documents, Keller Dairy is family farm with a 100-year history of farming in the area. They are also part of the Dairy Farmers of America, a national milk marketing co-op. Terms of the sale will keep a permanent conservation easement limiting residential development and non-agricultural uses on the property and the Kellers can only have up to a total of three 2,995 square-foot homes on the land.

Future farming will have to be in accordance with an approved Farm Management Plan, including a nutrient management component, in order to protect nearby water (i.e. Snoqualmie River) and meet the standards of the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Feeling the Keller Dairy Farm choice ignored the goals and requirements of County’s Tall Chief Farmland Request for Proposal, an online petition launched (courtesy of www.savetallchief.com) asking the County to rescind the preliminary decision to sell the land to Keller Dairy, a business petition creators characterize as a “confinement dairy farm that intends to grow Roundup-Ready GMO corn using glyphosate and synthetic fertilizers to provide feed for dairy cows.”

The County states there are advantages to a sale of the land versus a lease, like using the sale proceeds to “protect additional farmland in the near term.” With a lease it would lose this ability, would retain fee ownership and [presumably] any corresponding liability. It can also sell Tall Chief’s development rights on the TDR market somewhere down the line to fund more protective rural land purchases.

Petition creators say they are not discounting the importance of milk, but favor the Seattle Tilth’s proposal to add 75 acres of organic vegetable production in King County, which would greatly increase the amount of “high quality, local, responsibly grown food at the doorstep of nearly four million residents.”

They also point out that the Keller Dairy proposal could jeopardize organic farms located downstream from the Tall Chief land and would provide little net increase in local agricultural production.

Seattle Tilth’s proposal was one of land management, collaborating with various non-profit and educational entities to maximize the site for productive agriculture and as a community resource.  Its proposal states the public benefit provided by the activities on the site would exceed the market value of a lease rate and requested that the public benefit be accepted in lieu of a cash lease.

The ordinance selling the Tall Chief Farm to Keller Dairy had its first reading at the King County Council meeting on October 19th and was referred to to the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

To learn more about the efforts to “Save Tall Chief” visit www.savetallchief.com.

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[The Keller proposal wasn’t available to link at this time.  It will be added when available.]

 

 

Comments

  1. So sad… Hopefully Seattle Tilth will come out on top

  2. Sure does not seem right that King County taxpayers should be subsidizing a private dairy to the tune of $3.7 million dollars. If the land were to be used by the public, that would be one thing, but taxpayer funds should not be used to subsidize a private dairy.

  3. After the removal of the development rights and the addition of a county easement the land was appraised at $700 – 800K in the RFP that your article links to. Please stop repeating the $3.7 million lie. Also the Seattle Tith has accepted the county’s decision and is working with the county to find other land that will be purchased using the Keller’s money.
    Here is the county’s response posed on the Save Tall Chief Facebook page.
    “Hello,
    King County would like to respond to incorrect and misleading information contained in an online petition asking folks to support rescinding a proposed sale of the Tall Chief property in the Snoqualmie Valley to a family dairy farm.
    First of all, it is incorrect to say the County is selling the land at a loss. The land was purchased with Conservation Futures (CFT) funds, which are used specifically to protect open space, farmlands, and forest lands from development. King County purchased the property to prevent it from becoming an 18-home McMansion-style development affecting the rural character of the Snoqualmie Valley. King County will be retaining a significant ownership interest in the property in the form of a robust conservation easement that forever limits the ability to develop the property and limits its use to agriculture and open space uses. The majority of value in the property is associated with this easement the County will be retaining. The value of the remaining easement-restricted property interest proposed for sale was established by a fair market appraisal conducted by a certified appraiser. In addition to recouping nearly $1 million by selling the easement restricted property, King County can sell the development rights it has removed from Tall Chief to downtown developers, thereby steering development away from rural lands and into vibrant urban centers while raising additional funds for land preservation. This approach of owning strong conservation easements on farmland is highly consistent with the approach King County has taken in protecting 14,000 acres of farmland with easements since the voters approved the farmland preservation program in the late 1970’s.
    The petition fails to acknowledge that the conservation easement requires any and all farming on the property to follow all environmental and land use laws and regulations, and requires an approved farm management plan, including a nutrient management component, protecting water quality and human health. (http://www.kingcounty.gov/…/tall-chief-farm-rfp.aspx)
    King County received three proposals for Tall Chief, and the petition language fails to acknowledge that, as part of the proposed deal, proceeds from the sale would be used to preserve additional farmlands that could then be used by the other two bidders, enabling all three original proposals the opportunity to occur. Selection of either of the other two proposals would not enable such an outcome as one was a proposal for a no cost lease and the other was a proposal to buy at a significantly lower value than the current proposed sale.
    The petition also does not acknowledge that the agency it supports, Seattle Tilth, is on record supporting the proposed legislation to sell Tall Chief and use the proceeds to find additional farmland for it and the other bidder. Seattle Tilth is an outstanding organization, and has been a wonderful partner with King County in advancing food system priorities outlined in King County’s Local Food Initiative (http://bit.ly/localfoodinitiative) and we look forward to working closely with Seattle Tilth to find suitable farmland and support its mission.
    There are numerous organic farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley that, after careful and thoughtful consideration of the issues, support the Selection Committee’s ranking of the proposals and the proposed sale. Here is a statement of support in their own words:https://snoqualmievalleyfarmers.wordpress.com/…/organi…/
    Some of the comments on the petition seem to suggest that the Keller Dairy is somehow not a responsible farm operation. The Keller family has been farming successfully for over 100 years in King County. They are outstanding and hardworking farmers who operate a successful and responsible dairy farm that provides important dairy product for our region and over a dozen long term family wage jobs.
    When it launched the Local Food Initiative last year to better connect local farms to consumers and create a more resilient local food system, King County redoubled a commitment to support farming. Not just dairy farming, not just organic farming — but all responsible farming, which is increasingly at risk in King County due to development pressure, regulatory challenges, and fewer growers getting into farming. That commitment remains.
    -King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks”

    • Roger Short says

      King County Dept. of Natural Resources and Parks gave a very comprehenive explaination about the Keller Dairy purchase of the Tall Chief Farm. Its a great win-win.

  4. Also, Tall Chief is NOT a farm. It is a disused golf course. it was open to develop that would have destroyed the valley for farmers. King County bought this land specifically to make it farmland, in the process purchasing the development rights, so that the land could not be used for any other purpose in the future, thus protecting it from the ever-encroaching suburbs of Redmond.

  5. Also, Tall Chief is NOT a fallow farm. It is a disused golf course. Please stop errantly calling it “Tall Chief Farm.”

  6. Looks like evaluation score Category 6 (Financial Benefit to King County) was the factor that killed the deal for what was equal or better on most all categories otherwise. That trumped the other non-monetary benefits to King County the Seattle Tilth RFP provided.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0NVsZmWvP_keG0yN1hrVWYyaGlmTlVGc3lPNGxJMUN2ZklB/view

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