Half Moon Bay has paid the bill and taken possession of the Beachwood property, but determining what to do with the embattled property continues to be costly 

Last week, the City Council amended its annual budget to include $3.7 million for bonding and ownership expenses associated with a new stewardship plan to prepare the 24-acre property for future sale.

That is primarily due to a $3 million payment the city made from its own general fund to pay the settlement obligation. Recouping as much as possible of the city’s expenses from that $18 million payment has become the top priority for the council as it decides how to manage the new property.

“I cannot stress enough that we have to do everything right with this property,” said City Manager Michael Dolder. “We are now in the business of an $18 million piece of property.”

One scenario presented by city leaders would be to sell the Beachwood acreage to a private developer by 2014 or 2019 – important years because the bulk of the $15 million the city borrowed could be paid back early at those times. The alternative would be for the city to pay back the full $34 million over the next 30 years in $1.13 million installments.

City leaders appear to have abandoned the idea of turning Beachwood into a public park, a plan that gained momentum until hopes for state assistance were dashed. Instead, the city plans to prohibit public access to the property entirely. Council members approved adding $90,000 to the budget to fence off Beachwood along with the neighboring 12-acre Glencree property. $12,000 was also added to improve security on both properties to prevent hazards that could damage the city’s investment.

The city does not own Glencree, although it does have the option to purchase the property.

Dolder said such dangers to the properties could include someone starting a grass fire, dumping hazardous materials or driving an ATV — actions until now haven’t concerned city officials much. The city has also reportedly taken out insurance on the property.

City leaders also set aside $50,000 to perform a new biological study for the property to determine how much of the land is comprised of wetlands that must be protected. Council members allotted an additional $50,000 to maintain and repair drainage on Beachwood, and another $25,000 to manage vegetation on the property.

Mayor John Muller and other council members last week said they were taking extra precautions to ensure steps toward development of Beachwood were being handled in an environmentally sound manner.

“This is our plan to make a plan for Beachwood,” said Councilwoman Marina Fraser. “We have to protect this asset to make sure it doesn't degrade or decay.”

News that the city would be prohibiting people from accessing Beachwood was a blow to Half Moon Bay High School junior Michelle Alvarez. She was among a group of students who regularly hike across the unofficial trails through the properties to get to school every day. When the city closes off the property, she wonders whether she’ll have to walk along Highway 1 to get to class.

“Walking on the highway, that’s dangerous,” Alvarez said Monday after trudging across Glencree. “It’s way easier for us to come this way.”

The same afternoon, Grandview neighborhood residents Tim and Diane Costello were walking their dog through the undeveloped properties. They said for more than 13 years, Beachwood and Glencree have been their convenient hiking spot to walk their dog.

“It’s been our $18 million dog park,” Diane Costello said. “This property has always been open.”

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