Will Smith Cove become a park?

Critical talks could turn Port property over to Seattle's Parks Department

It appears that a deal may be in the works aimed at turning over the Port of Seattle’s Smith Cove property to the City of Seattle’s Parks Department.

While there is no deal yet, high-level officials with the city, county and the Port are continuing to negotiate the complex arrangement that calls for the Port to turn over to the Seattle Parks Department a parcel of property, known as the “Terminal 91 West Yard,” adjacent to Smith Cover that sits just south of the foot of the Magnolia Bridge. 

The point that needs to be resolved is what will the Port get in return? City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw, who is familiar with the negotiations and is chair of the city’s committee overseeing parks, said the deal may include other land parcels and the Port may not have to pay  certain easements or fees. But there are no details at this time.  The parcel of Smith Cove property is estimated to be worth between $6 million and $7 million. Whether or not the easements and fees are equal to that amount of money is not clear and is part of the current negotiations. It also isn’t clear what other parcels of land may potentially be part of the negotiations.

“We are trying to figure out a way to do some parcel swaps,” Bagshaw said. “We aren’t there yet. Everybody is talking, which is the best way to move forward.”

Bagshaw said much of the credit  for the negotiations go to King County Councilmember Larry Phillips who has been working with the parties trying to develop a solution that allows the Smith Cove area to be a large park. For many years the parcel, which sits on the Elliott Bay and offers views of Seattle, West Seattle and the ships mooring at Terminal 91, has been left fallow. Currently, it is used to store a few fishing nets. But, in general the site is not fully utilized. 

“The property looks about the same as it did when I went to high school,” said Phillips, who lives in Magnolia. “Pretty much fallow with a few rotting fish nets. I’m wide open to seeing what are the possibilities for that site.”

Bagshaw said the Port’s property has “fantastic” potential as a park. Even if Seattle doesn’t have money to develop the park now, it would still be a great location for picnics and would allow visitors access to a beach and the water.

“It is right on the waterfront and could be something quite lovely,” Bagshaw said. “This is one of those golden opportunities that we don’t want to lose.”

King County and Port officials acknowledge the sides are in negotiations to resolve the situation, but they won’t say much else.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Chief of Staff Sung Yang, confirmed that negotiations among the three parties are continuing, but could not give details about the discussions due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

“What I can tell you is this: The parties are all talking to each other and there is a chance that we can achieve an agreement,” Yang said.

The site, which is directly east of a city park used for soccer fields, has been the subject of much debate for years. In March, Port and Parks officials met with the public at a Magnolia open house to discuss possible options. Port officials wanted to swap properties, giving the city the swath of land next to Smith Cove and the Port would take the section of land now used as soccer fields. The residents attending the meeting appeared somewhat wary of this solution and were generally in favor of the entire site being turned over to the Parks Department to be made into a larger park. But Port officials said that they were required to develop land, not give it away.

The reason this process is now reaching a critical point is the need for King County Wastewater Treatment Division to place a massive 1.9 million-gallon underground combined sewer overflow tank on the Port’s Smith Cove property. The overflow tank is needed because of the relatively frequent instances where untreated wastewater has been discharged into Puget Sound from that area of Seattle. Wastewater Treatment Division officials have decided that the Port’s land is the best location for the underground tank. That configuration for the tank is not yet known, but it could measure up to 190 feet in length. The process for building the tank must begin to move forward in December or King County would fall behind on its federally required schedule that is being enforced by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The planning for the tank must move forward in the near future for the project to be completed by 2015.

To move forward with the project, King County began in mid-December a condemnation process for the Port’s Terminal 91 West Yard. The condemnation was an impetus for all the parties to get together and come up with a solution. The current talks are amicable.

Phillips said King County doesn’t want to condemn the property and is working with the parties to avoid that from happening.

“We’ve been very clear that we are up against a serious timeline. We have to move forward by the end of the year,” Phillips said of the underground tank project. “We have the authority to condemn the property, but we’d prefer not to do that.”

[[In-content Ad]]