Real estate analysis suggests park district rentals are under-occupied

The Vashon Park District’s historic Belle Baldwin House at Fern Cove was occupied only 35 percent of the time in 2012, according to an analysis undertaken by a real estate agent.

The Vashon Park District’s historic Belle Baldwin House at Fern Cove was occupied only 35 percent of the time in 2012, according to an analysis undertaken by a real estate agent.

The Point Robinson Keepers’ Quarters, meanwhile, saw somewhat more activity, with Quarters A rented 61 percent of the year and Quarters B rented 45 percent of the time.

Susan Lofland, an agent with John L. Scott on Vashon, conducted the analysis pro bono for the park district, which is looking for ways to bring in more revenue and shore up its financial situation.

At the park district’s request, Lofland also analyzed how much the Belle Baldwin House would fetch if the park district were to sell the 1912 structure, a three-bedroom house perched above an expansive sand flat on the north end of the island.

Lofland, who called the property “stunning,” said she believed it could sell for between $750,000 and $850,000, depending on how much property went with the house. It currently sits on a 13-acre parcel.

Lofland also tried to determine how much money the houses would bring in if they were rented as year-round residences rather than vacation properties. Each of the three houses, she estimated, could rent for as much as $2,000 a month.

The park district is currently losing money on the Belle Baldwin house because of a $300,000 loan it took out in 2008 to refurbish the home and undertake other capital projects at the time. All told, the agency spent $179,000 to restore the house and fully furnish it, $40,000 more than it budgeted, according to an article that ran in The Beachcomber in August 2008.

The park district expects to lose $21,000 on its vacation rentals this year, according to its 2013 budget.

Elaine Ott, the park district’s new general manager, said she’s taking a close look at all three properties in the wake of Lofland’s analysis. She planned to present her findings to the park district’s board Tuesday night, after the newspaper’s deadline.

“I’m taking a little deeper look at the financial implications of the various options,” she said.

Asked if selling the Belle Baldwin House were a possibility, Ott said, “It does loom large as a potential.”

But some islanders who played a role in the protection of Fern Cove said they believed there would be an outcry if the park district were to try to sell the historic house.

“That idea was floated a while ago. … A lot of people involved with it have already told the park district, over my dead body,” said Emma Amiad, a real estate agent and a former park district commissioner.

Tom Dean, who heads the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, said he believes the park district might have to repay a state grant, were it to try to sell the Belle Baldwin House. The park district used public funds from a variety of sources to purchase the property in 1994.

“It likely wouldn’t help the park district’s bottom line,” he said.

Dean also expressed concern over the prospect of renting the Belle Baldwin House as a year-round residence.

“Even though it’s way more lucrative, a full-time rental doesn’t really honor the spirit of what that project was supposed to do,” Dean said.

Capt. Joe Wubbold, who heads the Keepers of Point Robinson, said he would object as well to the two houses at Point Robinson becoming anything other than vacation rentals.

“The contract that we have with the island, unwritten as it may be, is that those houses will be maintained and made ready so island people can enjoy them,” he said.

But Ott stressed there are other options. The park district, for instance, might decide to contract with a rental agency in an effort to make the properties profitable, she said.

“With any one of those options, the hope is that they would be a potential cash positive,” she said.