A century ago, the land along May Valley Road was dotted with dairy farms, the last of which closed in 1988 — a victim of encroaching development.
One relic from that time, the Speerstra dairy barn, still stands today, 87 years after it was built. It has long been closed but sits virtually unchanged. Despite a possible sale of Winterbrook Farm, where the Speerstra barn sits, advocates remain hopeful they can save the barn from demolition and the surrounding 80 acres from becoming another subdivision.
“To have it turn into 16 multimillion-dollar homes is not the best use of this land” said Val Moore, a neighbor to the property. “This land is so valuable for the community.”
Moore is part of a group of residents rallying around Winterbrook Farm, located on May Valley Road directly east of the Sunset Valley Farms development and across the road from the Squak Mountain trailhead parking area, hoping to save the land from development. Advocates worry that if the land is developed, the county will not only lose a historic structure, but also valuable open space and a vital link in the wildlife corridor. New development would displace wildlife and impact salmon-bearing streams that run through the property, the group says.
Growth and development isn’t just impacting Issaquah’s roads. New homes are also displacing wildlife in King County. The Winterbrook Farm acreage includes a portion of the King County Wildlife Habitat Network, which links streams and open space to minimize habitat fragmentation.
On a recent day, a heavy fog was clinging to the mountains surrounding Winterbrook Farm as eagles, hawks, woodpeckers and great blue herons flew by. A barred owl remained elusive, but a few hoots let passersby know it also called the land home. A herd of 30 elk, along with bears, bobcats and deer, are frequently seen by neighbors as the animals use the wildlife network to move between forests.
Chad Richardson, a neighbor to the farm and a member of the group trying to save the property, predicts the elk won’t stick around if houses are built on the land. He said the elk roam the entire property year-round.
“It’s a unique area,” Richardson said. “I don’t know anywhere else along May Valley Road you can see this much wildlife.”
Moore calls the land the “missing link” that would connect the Cedar River to Squak Mountain State Park, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park and Tiger Mountain State Forest.
“We are losing space like this with all the growth and development going on,” Moore said. “And if we aren’t careful, we won’t have any open space left.”
The land was purchased by the Issaquah School District in 2006 for $3.33 million with the intent of using the land to build future schools. But the school district had to rework those plans to comply with requirements of the Growth Management Act.
Jake Kuper, chief of finance and operations for the school district, told school board members in October that “following a change of the interpretation of the Growth Management Act and actions taken by King County and Puget Sound Regional Council, the land has been deemed not appropriate to put schools on.”
Kuper didn’t return a request for comment.
The Issaquah School Board then authorized the sale of 80 acres of land for $4.16 million to Bellevue developer William E. Buchan Inc. The developer is in middle of negotiating with the school district and working on a feasibility study on the land.
Carl Buchan, president of the company, said negotiations with the school district were ongoing and a pre-application meeting with the county has been scheduled.
He declined to comment further.
“That barn is a unique design,” said Richard Petrut, a neighbor of the land and part of the group working to save the farm. “You won’t find many of them standing in King County.”
He spent more than 60 hours researching the barn and completing the lengthy landmark designation application for the classic Midwestern-style post-and-beam barn. Petrut said the original owner, Jan Bartele Speerstra, was an immigrant from the Netherlands living the American dream on a classic dairy farm.
Moore says preserving the land is also in line with King County Executive Dow Constantine’s 2016 Land Conservation and Preservation Work Plan. The plan has set a goal of conserving more than 60,000 acres of farmlands, forest lands, natural areas and trails within a generation.
Advocates plan to continue using political pressure in the hopes the Buchan will abandon its plans and the school district will take the opportunity to sell the land to the county.
Richardson called the school district’s sale of the land a missed opportunity.
“It’s an excellent area for environmental education,” Richardson said. “Everything is there that kids are learning about in school.”
Moore hopes the school district will be “good stewards” if a deal with Buchan falls through.
“There’s always a chance,” Moore said. “All this land belongs to the public instead of 16 homeowners.”