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Nelson farmhouse once again in limbo

POULSBO — Renovation of the Nelson Park farmhouse may soon either take a big step forward or screech to a halt.

It all depends on a very difficult decision for the city council.

At its last meeting, the council was set to act on a letter of agreement between Poulsbo and the Bight of Poulsbo, a community volunteer group that has dedicated itself to the preservation of Nelson Park and its 1930s era farmhouse. The document would have set a deadline for the farmhouse renovation, making the structure ready for occupation by the park caretaker by June 1.

The deadline is part of a $665,000 grant that Poulsbo Parks and Recreation received from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The grant, which covers passive development of the park excluding the farmhouse, will develop about 3.5 acres of the 11-acre park surrounding the current caretaker’s abode.

Parks and Recreation Director Mary McCluskey said the Nelson farmhouse has been identified in the park’s master plan as the intended caretaker’s home and she asked for it to be completed by June 1, which is when she intends to have the other dwelling demolished.

“I had asked the caretaker’s house be done June 1 so that we could let the crews have complete run of the whole site and so we could have the rest of the summer to get the rest of the park development done,” McCluskey explained.

The letter of agreement regarding the farm house was pulled from the Dec. 4 agenda for some last-minute tweaking, but is expected to be considered at the Dec. 11 council meeting.

City concerns with the letter are twofold.

First, City Attorney James Haney has raised some concerns with both liability and also performance bondage, or who has the authority to obligate the city financially during the proposed project. These problems are set to be discussed by Mayor Donna Jean Bruce, City Engineer John Stephenson and Haney early next week.

The city’s finance administration committee also expressed concerns Wednesday that the letter of agreement contained nearly $30,000 in expenses that Poulsbo would incur on behalf of the renovation. The amount is unfunded in either the current or proposed city budget.

Even so, Stephenson told committee members that about $10,000 of the money needed would be covered through in-kind services, $20,000 is cash and some of the items have already been contributed. However, committee members said in light of current financial concerns, they would find it hard to approve such an expenditure.

“I think council in general agreed that Nelson Park was something we wanted to move forward with but that was prior to what we know now budgetarily,” Councilwoman Katherine Quade said.

“We’re at a point where $20,000 is $20,000 out of the clerk’s budget or $20,000 out of another budget,” Councilman Ed Stern added.

The committee chose to make no recommendation on the expenditure and is opting to speak about the issue with the council as a whole.

This uncertainty has members of the Bight of Poulsbo, primarily founder Bill Austin, scratching their heads.

Austin said he and the 33 members of the Bight have put a considerable amount of time and effort into the farm house, including completing the structure’s roof this week. The Bight has also secured a laundry list of donated labor and parts for the house that Austin figures could easily save the project as a whole between $50,000 and $60,000. Austin said the city already committed to spending the money in the park’s master plan when it was finalized in 1998 and he feels it should follow through with its responsibility.

“The general public said, ‘Yes, we’re willing to spend the taxpayers’ money on this,’” Austin commented. “So, now all of a sudden if they’re saying they don’t have that money, then golly what’s going on? That was a promise they made to the people.”

Austin said he and his group remains committed to finishing the Nelson Park farm house one way or another. In August the Bight revived the Mudstock music festival and raised between $4,000 and $5,000 toward work on the house. Just days after the stage was taken down, members were talking about Mudstock 2003. Austin contends that with the talent and commitment the project has behind it, a time line of six months is not a problem and he hopes the city will work with him to finish what they started together.

“I’m adamant. I’m so adamant about finishing this house,” Austin said.

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