An alliance of open-space activists and environmental-justice advocates win an important victory
By George Howland Jr – Outside City Hall, July 27, 2016
“You can fight city hall and win!
Earlier this month, the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition (Green Spaces) and TreePAC saved the Myers Way Parcels, 33 acres of open space in the middle of neighborhoods with poor air quality, concentrated poverty and a high number of people of color. Myers is bigger than Madrona Park and Beach (31 acres) and much bigger than Gas Works Park (19 acres).
In order to preserve Myers, the activists had to persuade Mayor Ed Murray to change course. He planned to sell the property to raise $5 million for homeless services. Now he will preserve Myers and find the money to fight homelessness elsewhere.
I admit that my expectations might be way off. I grew up in Seattle in a part of town you might call The People’s Republic of Olmstedia.
The Olmsted Brothers firm shaped modern Seattle into the livable city we know, the city we fear losing bit by bit. Their innovative landscape designs and parks vision are part of our foundational infrastructure. But has it runs its course?
There are certainly indications that the city’s interest in maintaining that vision is at risk. Continue reading →
By Adiel Kaplan and Investigate West, Seattle Weekly, June 22, 2016
So-called pavement parks are a growing trend in major American cities and they’re one of the new ways Seattle is looking to increase open space without spending billions
From atop a steep slope above Myers Way in West Seattle, Cass Turnbull peers over a tangle of blackberry bushes. Her perch affords her an exceptional view of the distant Cascades. But her gaze fixes instead on the island of undeveloped acreage more than 100 feet below the blackberries.
“My dream for this area is a nature play area,” Turnbull says, noting the wetlands, slopes, forests, fields and creek below. Her vision: “Kids get to interact with nature and explore.”
Ellen Sollod’s “Cloud Veil” at 12th Avenue Square Park. Credit: Seattle Parks & Recreation Credit: Alex Garland
Forget what you think you know about green Seattle parks. A new park just south of Seattle University shows us an important aspect of the future in a more densely developed city.
The recently opened 12th Avenue Square Park is the sort of open space we will likely see more often. It is more like a piazza, surrounded by development — both older and newer, with more buildings to come.<–more–> Continue reading →
In this edition of Remember When: How Seattle plans to pay for its homelessness State of Emergency. Remember when the $5 million in one-time spending was unveiled, the money was going to come from the sale of a property above the Duwamish River Valley? The plan was presented as solid, so solid that several media outlets reported the sale already completed.
But the sale, in fact, still hasn’t been carried out. So what’s going on with that?
Specifically, the property is part of what’s called the Myers Parcels, some 30 acres the city bought to build its Joint Training Facility for firefighters. It lies above a wooded hillside along Highway 509, near the south city limits.
A city map of the Myers Parcels which lie just west of Highway 509 above the Duwamish River Valley. All marked areas except the campus on the north side could be sold.
In the midst of Seattle’s pell-mell development, a patch of land above the Duwamish River Valley is becoming a battleground in the debate over what the city should do with its dwindling open spaces.
Open space advocates say the land, 13 acres of a former gravel quarry at the city’s south edge, is perhaps one of the last chances to develop a significant new park. The city considers the property “excess” and is considering selling it to the highest bidder for development.
The issue came to a head on Friday, when City Councilmember Lisa Herbold sent a letter to a ranking Murray administration official, asking the city to put the sale process on hold until the people in her South End district have a chance to weigh in.
The issue, though, has also started to gain traction among neighbor groups and open space advocates throughout the city, some of whom are increasingly angry about what they see as a failure to match natural area protections with the pace of development in the city. They question whether the city of Seattle is paying close enough attention to its own tree coverage and climate policies as it considers selling dozens of small properties it says it no longer needs. Many of those belong to Seattle City Light, which no longer needs as many substations as it once had.
The south end property is part of what the city calls the Myers Parcels, 30-plus acres of a one-time gravel quarry it bought to build a Joint Training Facility for firefighters. The property lies above a wooded hillside along Highway 509, a heavily used route for getting from Downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport. It is in the Hamm Creek drainage area, which feeds into the Duwamish.
The city built the fire training facility early in the last decade — violating federal wetlands protections as it did so — and wants to sell off parts that it says are surplus. Mayor Murray has designated some of the proceeds from the expected sale for use in his response to the city-declared homelessness crisis.
Herbold’s letter expresses concerns about 13 acres that are working their way through the Department of Finance and Administrative Service’s procedures for selling properties. She expressed hope that the department would work with her in resolving the concerns.
She said that many nearby residents — some of whom live in low-income housing and aren’t native speakers of English — have no idea of the possible sale and its implications. Advocates have complained that the area is one of the few open space and walking areas for many people. Herbold suggested that “an enhanced engagement effort” is needed before finance department officials bring any sale recommendation to the council.
The letter also raises environmental and public health issues, pointing to both air pollution and the watershed issues that led to a listing last week of the Duwamish-Green River as the fifth most-threatened waterway in America. Herbold asked for not just a regular environmental assessment of the individual effects of any parcel sales for development but larger looks at any effects on the overall environmental health of the area and the health of neighbors. Environmental justice campaigners regularly point to the overall health burdens to low- and moderate-income residents in the south end from the Duwamish Valley’s history of pollution.
Reached late Friday, Fred Podesta, the director of Finance and Administrative Services, said he had received the councilmember’s letter but officials had not had time to make any decisions.
Podesta noted that the land had been purchased with the intent of selling any portions left over after construction of the training facility. Under normal city processes, other departments look at whether they have a need.
The city will be buying open space and park land in future years with some of the money from a voter-approved citywide park district. The area hasn’t rated highly under the city Parks and Recreation Department’s reviews of where the biggest per-capita needs for additional land are. Paul Kundtz, the state executive director for the Trust for Public Land, has praised the department’s prioritization work, but he told Crosscut recently that he was talking with both the department and advocates about the idea that the land merits further consideration.
One of the leaders of the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition, Mary Fleck, praised Herbold’s call for better engagement with the community. “People in City Hall think this is a junk piece of property in South Seattle,” she said. “They just want to sell it.”
She said she is very optimistic about protecting the land from development once people realize its value as open space and a walking area, and as part of the Hamm Creek watershed flowing into the Duwamish.
“I want to see each council member and the mayor come down and see this beautiful place,” she said, “and the beautiful people who surround it.”
Friday, March 25, 2016. Houses above a ravine at the end of the 3200 block of 35th Ave. SW in West Seattle where trees were cut on property owned by the parks and transportation departments. The Seattle City Attorney’s office is investigating.
By Daniel Beekman
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle officials are investigating the unpermitted cutting down of more than 150 trees in a city-owned greenbelt next to homes in West Seattle.
The City Attorney’s Office is heading up the investigation into the decimation of part of the greenbelt, Assistant City Attorney Joe Groshong said.
The clear-cut area, on the hillside north and east of the 3200 block of 35th Avenue Southwest, above Southwest Admiral Way, belongs to the Seattle parks and transportation departments, parks department spokesman David Takami said.
The trees Friday lay where they were downed, crisscrossing more than an acre of the hillside. Their stumps, some a couple of feet in diameter, jutted through the debris.
Barbara Dobkin, council of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, stands with her dog Mattie on a hill in front of the Seattle city-owned land she’d like to see turned into a park. KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
It’s nearly impossible to find empty land in Seattle. But down at the far south end, there’s 40 acres with nothing on it. And it’s owned by the city of Seattle.
Locals would like to keep it wild. They think of it as “Discovery Park South.” But the city has other plans.
Barbara Dobkin and I are standing on the city border. It separates unincorporated King County and Seattle.
Dobkin: “Now when I tell people we have incredible views down on the south end, people don’t believe me.”
The border is marked by a row of blackberries at the top of a steep slope heading down to the Duwamish river. Her dog treads carefully over the thorns.
Dobkin: “And the homes that they are building, the market rate homes, lack yards. So there’s no open space really around the homes. They’re all very high density, close to each other.”
On the Seattle side is vacant land, down at the bottom of a steep slope. Dobkin imagines a park here, with trails, like Discovery Park, but smaller and in South Seattle.
Once intended as a campus for Nintendo, this rare piece of undeveloped land called the “Myers Way properties” was snatched up by Seattle for a firefighter training facility. It only needed part of the land though. It’s been trying to dump the extra land ever since. Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Dobkin: “Unless we take a stand at this point to preserve this, we’re going to lose it.”
When she stands here at the border, Dobkin is thinking about the kids who will live here, who she says will only know ball fields, but not wild spaces.
Dobkin: “We have birds coming in here that we don’t have anymore in other areas of Seattle. Frogs are in here.”
Chip Nevins, Seattle Parks and Recreation: “And when we look at a property, we look at one main thing: We look at a gap analysis, which I am showing you right now.”
Chip Nevins, acquisition planner with Seattle Parks and Recreation Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Nevins: “It shows the areas that are underserved – or unserved by park space. And those are the gaps that we really target our acquisition money for.”
He says other areas need parks more desperately than this area, like the North Rainier Valley, the Bitter Lake area and the University District.
Nevins: “The challenge is that land values in Seattle are really high. And so park land is really expensive.”
Officials are leaning towards another use for Discovery Park South.
Hillary Hamilton: “The most likely purchaser would probably be a large distribution warehouse.”
Hamilton is in charge of selling the city’s extra land. She says the city could probably get $12 million for the flat part of the property. The City Council says it wants $5 million of that to fight homelessness.
Hamilton: “There’s a lot of important causes, and it can be a hard balance. We try to look at each property and say, ‘What could you do here? What are the pros? What are the cons?’”
Hamilton says in the end, the final decision lies with the City Council. And its members have already said they want to sell.
Hamilton: “But they could change their mind. We have a new council. The council could make another decision. But then they’d have to come up with another source of the money.”
King County plans to extend the Greenbridge housing development onto this grassy plateau. From here, they’ll have great views of the Myers property below, which some want to see become a park, but which might become home for a distribution warehouse. Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Dobkin: “Why does every bit of this city have to be paved over and developed?”
Dobkin says the land is worth saving. Seattle officials say it’s more valuable as cash.
A seven-story apartment building is planned for this Northeast Seattle lot. The house is in disrepair, but the property also includes a couple of sizeable trees that stand out at an intersection laced with parking lots.
I assume they’ll be cut when the house is torn down. But what if the owner had happened to nominate them for heritage status?
City of Seattle arborist Nolan Rundquist told me anyone can nominate a tree with the consent of the property owner, and more than 150 notable trees have received heritage status under a program that started in 1996.
Cass Turnbull, a member of the Heritage Tree Committee, said the program has helped save some trees but can’t guarantee preservation. With so much development, a stricter tree ordinance is due, she said. “The green stuff we love so much is disappearing under concrete.”