Bench wars

Memorial benches private citizens pay to have installed are a common sight in Magnolia, and it's not that big a deal for most people.

But a group of nearby residents is up in arms and talking about hiring a lawyer over plans to reinstall three memorial benches on park property in the middle of a busy intersection at the western end of West McGraw Street.

The benches were originally installed on what looks like a large traffic median in June, but they were removed after just a couple of weeks because the three benches were misaligned, said Dewey Potter, a spokeswoman for Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Seattle Parks Foundation, which was responsible for the project, made a mistake on the design, she explained. The benches will be back soon, and the parks department in all likelihood will have to eat the cost of reinstalling them, Potter said.

But the benches were in place long enough to give nearby residents an idea of the changes they will bring to the neighborhood, and the residents didn't like what they saw, according to a July 3 letter sent to Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds and signed by people in a dozen households.

"The biggest problem is they don't look they belong here," groused Art Hays, one of the people who signed the letter and a local resident who was featured in a recent News article (June 14) about his efforts to pick up trash on the Magnolia Bridge. "We don't want them here," he added.

Nearby residents Gretchen Taylor and her husband, Chris Grady, also think it was mistake to put the benches there. "What we're really quite concerned about is drawing traffic and people to that site," Taylor said.

There was also a problem with teenagers making noise at night, parking hassles that blocked people's driveways and trash being left behind, she said. Parks has told the neighborhood it will install a garbage can near the benches, Taylor said.

But she describes that as a Band-Aid solution because people will use the garbage can to dispose of pet waste and because crows will toss the trash around. She also has traffic-safety concerns: "It's a dangerous convergence of about five different streets here," Taylor said.

Taylor's next-door neighbor, Angela Giaever, said putting the benches in was a ridiculous move, and she described them as looking "like a sinking Titanic." Everyone in the neighborhood is against the plan, according to Giaever.

The Parks Department held a Thursday-night meeting a couple of weeks ago with neighbors in response to their complaints. The landscape architect was there, along with Betty Kreager, the woman who donated the benches.

Grady complained that the parks department told the neighborhood residents the agency could do anything it wanted without getting approval from them. He also charged that the neighborhood residents were referred to as "rich Magnolia troublemakers."

Kreager was unavailable for comment, but Glenn Harrington, her close friend and president of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce, was also at the Thursday night meeting.

Kreager had dedicated the benches to her late husband and to her son, who died at age 59 a year or so ago, Harrington said.

"It was a lovely thing to do," he said of the memorial benches. "She had gone through all the correct hoops and everything," Harrington added.

Kreager chose the spot because she and her husband used to walk by there, but the location was suitable for an additional reason, according to Harrington: "'Most everybody who walks up that hill likes to sit down."

Some of the neighbors complained that Kreager had turned down alternate locations for the benches, and Harrington conceded that was true.

One of the locations was on Magnolia Boulevard, an idea Kreager nixed because there are already a lot of memorial benches there, he said. A second location was a couple blocks south of the current site, but there's no view, and the benches would have looked as if they were part of a bus stop, Harrington added.

Harrington thinks the neighbors' fears are exaggerated, and he brought up another relevant issue at the meeting. "The point I tried to make, and it was lost on people, is parks ... are really for everybody."

Some of the nearby neighbors also got together for a meeting last Sunday, and one of the issues they talked about was a lack of response to the July 3 letter they wrote to the parks department. A letter is being drafted to them and will arrive before the benches are reinstalled, Potter from Parks said.

But a broader issue also came out at the Sunday meeting, according to Taylor. "What we are clear about," she said, "is other people in Magnolia and Queen Anne don't know their neighborhood can be impacted by the will of a rich widow."

The neighbors aren't giving up their fight just yet, though. "We are looking for an attorney who has experience in matters like this," Taylor said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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