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Court denies sale of Camp Kilworth to Federal Way

Federal Way's four-year pursuit to purchase Camp Kilworth came to an abrupt end Sept. 8, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Pacific Harbors Council Boy Scouts of America.

The court's decision upholds a prior ruling in favor of the camp property's two trusts. It also eliminates the city's hopes of converting the 25-acre slice of Federal Way land — which overlooks the Puget Sound — to a public park.

"We're assuming at this point, it's over," city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

Federal Way will return money it previously set aside to purchase the property. Real estate excise taxes ($1,320), General Fund dollars ($150,000) and utility taxes ($300,000) were dedicated to the purchase. To date, $261,000 in interest has been collected on the city funds. The money will now revert back into the city budget, said Bryant Enge, Federal Way financial services administrator, at the Sept. 15 city council meeting.

"We're just going to hold onto that," interim city manager Brian Wilson said. "We did our mid-year budget and we're pretty tight."

A state Legislature grant for $1.1 million, a $900,000 grant from King County Conservation Futures and a $1 million grant from the State Recreation and Conservation Office were also obtained in earlier years to round out the $3 million purchase price. That money will no longer be available to the city.

Legalities

In 2005, when the Pacific Harbors Council Boy Scouts of America announced intentions to sell the site, the city immediately jumped on the opportunity to buy the property.

"The city had an interest in protecting this tremendous resource," Wilson said.

But before the deal could proceed, the property's trusts intervened, claiming the sale would violate a 1934 deed. A legal battle ensued, characterized by appeals and rich with disagreements over the intention of the property's deed.

William Kilworth and his second wife deeded the acreage to the Boy Scouts more than 70 years ago. The stipulation accompanying the gift was that it must always be used for scouting purposes and to promote scouting.

The Boy Scouts wished to sell the camp and use the proceeds to enhance other camps that better fit their needs. The group believed selling the land to the City of Federal Way, with the understanding that it could continue using the property for scouting purposes, did not violate the deed. The trusts disagreed.

Judge Thomas Larkin, in September 2007, ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts. The city was hopeful the sale could continue. But the trusts appealed and the case was taken to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division II.

In 2008, the appeals court overturned Larkin's decision. If the scouts did not use the property for purposes stipulated in the 1934 deed, the ownership of the property would revert to its two trusts, the court ruled. Selling the property to the city would violate the deed, according to the ruling.

The Boy Scouts appealed the decision. The scouts asked the state Supreme Court to hear their appeal. The Supreme Court's rejection of the case upholds the Division II ruling in favor of the trusts.

The scouts will now hold onto the land. There will likely be further discussions on how to preserve the space, Wilson said.

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