A chorus of complaints: Planning for new Magnolia park off to rocky start

An April 28 public meeting about plans for a new park in Magnolia was supposed to garner ideas for a preferred design, but comments coming from roughly three dozen people at the meeting focused more on what they didn't want to happen than what they did.

The fledging park is currently a derelict playground that used to be part of the long-closed Magnolia Elementary School on 28th Avenue West between West McGraw and West Smith streets.

It's been Seattle Parks and Recreation property for around 70 years, explained Parks planner Cathy Tuttle. "But it was in a long-term lease to Seattle public schools."

With the closing of the elementary school, however, the 2 1/2 acres of land behind the school has ended up back in Parks Department hands, she said. It hasn't been forgotten, though, and almost $1.4 million was earmarked for its revival in the Pro Parks Levy, Tuttle added.

The site includes steep slopes at the east and west edges of the parkland, leaving just under 2 acres of useable land, explained Mark Brands, a landscape architect tapped to design the park. Access to the park would be off McGraw and Smith, he said.

There are few trees on the property, which helps preserve a view of downtown Seattle and the Fourth of July fireworks for many Magnolians, "which is something to consider when we go forward," Brands said.

He also spoke about the possibility of including an event-area shelter which could be rented out the same way picnic shelters are rented out on Magnolia Bluff. There would also be lighting in the park to increase safety, Brands added. "The lighting will be very low and will not be shining into nearby residents' homes," he said.

Preliminary concepts also include using approximately a third of the land for T-ball and modified soccer for the under-11 crowd, but the plan will include no permanent backstops, goal posts or stadium lighting, Brands said.

Some at the meeting wanted a guarantee that stadium lighting would not be included, but Brands said it wasn't an issue because the fields were too small. Responding to one suspicious speaker at the meeting, Tuttle went even further, pledging to put in writing a promise not to include stadium lighting.

Outside of ballfields, the land would be converted into a passive-park setting, and both the ballfields and passive-park parts would be planted with natural grass, as opposed to artificial turf, Brands said.

Using artificial turf is an issue because it's expensive, he noted. But artificial turf could allow year-round play on the athletic-field portion of the property, noted speakers from the Magnolia soccer and Little League groups. The youth-sports proponents also complained that there is a shortage of fields and suggested that the proposed field use was too limited and should be expanded at the new park.

But that, in turn, prompted complaints from some nearby residents that even the limited sports activity proposed so far would draw too many vehicles to the residential neighborhood, causing traffic congestion and parking woes.

Brands denied parking would be a problem, based on a preliminary survey of the neighborhood. "You all don't use the streets that much for parking," he said, adding that parking would not be allowed in the park itself. Brands also said traffic patterns in the area will be studied as part of the planning process. "We'll analyze a several-block radius," he said.

There was also a call at the meeting to turn the area into an off-leash-dog area, but that's not going to happen, according to Tuttle, who noted the idea was nixed in the early stages of planning.

Less controversial was a suggestion that a perimeter track for walkers and kids on bikes be included in the plan. "That's a very good idea, and we'll be pursuing that, I think," Brands said.

Current planning also doesn't include installing new playground equipment in the park, and a call to install a wading pond on the site was brushed aside. "Wading pools and water features are very expensive and hard to maintain," Tuttle said.

Furthermore, new wading pools are off the table because of liability issues, she said, adding that the only ones that exist now on Parks property were grandfathered in.

One community member also wondered whether a P-Patch community garden could be included in the park. "I don't think there will be a P-Patch," said Brands. Still, he added, the hillsides at either end of the park could provide "a great opportunity" for local gardeners.

The next step in the design process is to use comments made at the meeting last week to come up with three design concepts, Brands said. Those designs will be presented at a public meeting on June 15. "We're going to take the best of all three and go forward," he said of a potential mix-and-match approach.

Following that meeting, Parks staff will sign off on a preferred plan, which will also be reviewed by the Seattle Design Commission, Brand said.

The third public meeting is scheduled for sometime in September, when the public will have a chance to comment on the preferred plan, which the Design Commission will also review.

The Board of Park Commissioners also has to sign off on the plan, which will then be forward to Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds for approval next October.

According to Parks' timeline, construction work will take place between March and November next year, and the new park is scheduled to be completed in December 2006.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]