A proposal to buy 80 acres of open space along the Clark Fork River west of Missoula went back to the negotiating table Monday night, after an appraisal came in $55,000 lower than the landowners' asking price.

City Council members gave Mayor Mike Kadas the go-ahead to continue negotiations with Larry and Sherry Wilbert, who own the riverside acreage at the north end of Tower Street.

The Wilberts want $250,000 for the property, through which the Clark Fork flows. The city's appraisal, though, came back at $195,000.

Open space program manager Kate Supplee said the city can legally pay more than the appraised price for the land. The decision will be the mayor's, she said, after he meets again with the Wilbert family. "And he does have the authority to say no - to not buy the property."

The Wilbert property includes two houses, but is mostly undeveloped floodplain and cottonwood forest. Besides a couple who rent one of the homes, the land is habitat for deer, black bears, beavers, eagles, an occasional moose, ospreys, great blue herons, ducks and Canada geese.

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