By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The question came about two-thirds of the way through this morning’s design workshop — second in a series of 3 exploring possible changes at tiny California Place Park in North Admiral:
“We wondered what happened to the playspace — it’s gone,” said the spokesperson for one of the tables that had spent the previous half-hour reviewing and chronicling comments on the design proposals with which landscape architect Karen Kiest (photo above) had started the workshop.
That was no small question, for many reasons. The whole idea of possible changes to California Place Park, which currently is a triangle of grass and trees that some thought was part of the property of adjacent Admiral Congregational Church, began with a playground proposal.
It evolved to “natural playscape,” Kiest reminded the gathering of nearly 100 this morning after the “what happened” question, adding: “All of the concepts shown today do show how the park can feel bigger and have more uses … the areas that are called ‘soft spots’ could have a sandbox, a piece of art. We don’t see any play equipment.”
With that, a central part of the big controversy that has hovered over this little park seemed to shrink. But before we finish going down that road, for those who couldn’t make this morning’s workshop – which, as noted in our brief report earlier, was vastly calmer than the first one – we’ll show the three designs (thanks to Kiest for providing digital copies):
At the meeting’s start, a bit of background was shared by Steven Gray from Friends and Neighbors of North Admiral (FANNA), the neighborhood group that obtained a $15,000 city Neighborhood Matching Fund grant to hire a landscape architect for this design work.
The one point Gray tried to make was that this process was not initiated by the city Parks Department, though Parks has the final say on what happens, if anything — he pointed out that a group of friends, talking about the neighborhood about a year ago, first focused on the “south parcel,” a largely barren triangle of land across SW Hill, till learning that it was SDOT land and, at the time, offlimits for consideration. Google Street View shows the site:
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So they turned their focus to California Place, which isn’t readily recognizable as a park (no sign aside from a warning about picking up after dogs). And, Gray said, “At the end of the process, we present to (Parks) a conceptual design and they give us the nod to proceed or not. … But there’s a whole lot to get to that level (proceeding). Permits, fundraising, work party organization …”
The only major disruptive moment of this meeting came before Gray finished speaking; a woman said she wanted the chance to ask a question, and didn’t settle for being told that questions would be discussed in the small-table discussions, as Kiest, her staff, and FANNA members circulated. So Gray offered to go outside the room to listen to her question. A man at that point shouted, “We’d like no change!” but after that, the meeting proceeded relatively peacefully.
Next, Kiest’s presentation, starting with a summary of comments from the first meeting. She listed interest in benches, walkways, access for the disabled, keeping all the trees and perhaps adding more plantings, “safe edge” along the park’s border with busy California Avenue SW. As she had done during the first meeting, Kiest showed a photo of Stevens Place Triangle Park on Beacon Hill; park-change opponent Dennis Ross called out from the back of the room to say that the plantings in that park “are now dead,” but Kiest kept moving and didn’t address that point. (We’ll check on that park soon.)
Kiest went on to explain the “lack of clarity” about where park property really begins and ends, particularly a stretch of asphalt along its north side, adjacent to a parking area for a nearby apartment building. This happened, she said, because the park previously was road right-of-way purchased over periods of time (there were trolley and cable car lines in the area in the first half of the 20th century, like this, leading downhill to a ferry terminal, and that history was again mentioned as something that could be showcased in the park).
That’s not the only undefined edge, she added: “The park goes all the way to the church – the grading that slopes down is within the park site … There’s a significant amount of land on the north side that could make the park feel safer and larger.”
Segueing to the actual design, she concluded, “I was asked to look at concepts for the site. The Parks Department reviewed all the concepts this past Tuesday with Kellee (Jones, project liaison)’s team and they wanted to make sure that we included this range of concepts for you to look at.”
First, “existing conditions”:
Kiest outlined the slope on the site’s west side, adjacent to the church, and a rockery that was allowed by the Parks Dept., and again mentioned the asphalt-covered area on the north edge.
Then, the “starting point”:
Adding a bit to the existing conditions, Kiest said, this could be seen with a few changes – three benches, landscaping for a “safer edge,” sidewalk repair to fix buckling blamed on tree roots, and adding a curb-cut ramp (as exists at many streetcorners).
Next, “inner circle”:
Right now, Kiest said, it’s difficult to get “from point A to point B” inside the park – particularly in winter, with saturated, muddy ground. This would add “a walk connecting the walks … giving us the chance to keep the lawn or add landscape beds. I’d call it the ‘traditional Olmsted look'” — a reference to the much-lauded designer of so many Seattle parks — “… it could have a small plaza, same size as Benefit Park in Southeast Seattle, about 20 feet wide.” All concepts but “starting point,” she noted, would “stretch” the park “a little bit to the west” — not adding land, but better defining where the park site truly begins/ends.
Another common factor: Kiest proposes moving the bus stop north, so that it doesn’t dominate the view from the southeastern corner. “If you relocate the bus stop north, suddenly you can
see into the park, the seating area – we’re looking at trying to make the park feel bigger.” You can see the stop in this photo we took earlier this week:
Next concept, “outer circle”:
This, Kiest said, “pushes the circle outside the existing walkway … and includes a place on the west side that could be a sandbox. … This is a straightforward thing within the existing park, retaining trees, retaining existing lawn.”
Next, “full stretch”:
This one was Kiest’s exercise “to see how much of the park we could use.” Besides reclaiming the asphalt-covered area, moving the bus stop, etc., it would include a “meander walk” in the southwestern section, and “the widest lawn … goes out beyond the trees … it IS a change beyond the existing conditions, but it shows how the park can feel larger.” It would also include an added garden. Kiest went on to say, “There is no magic, it’s not like we are making the property bigger – what we want to keep trying to do is, how to draw (the park) in a way that provides new opportunities and respects the existing park.”
Before finishing her presentation, she also presented a brief look at the “southern triangle” that FANNA’s organizers had originally eyed, recounting that while it’s still owned by SDOT, the Parks Department has taken responsibility for “managing” it:
While Kiest noted that FANNA isn’t interested in “stretching the project too far,” she felt it important to note the fact the two triangles together seem to make a whole and could have a complementary relationship – maybe the north site more about history and culture, south about nature; she drew laughter by briefly putting up the yin/yang symbol and saying the two sites have that kind of relationship. As for specifics, she didn’t offer much aside from suggesting the southern site “could be more of a bioswale that picks up water off the street and draings it,” since the neighborhood has a recurring problem with rainwater flowing downhill and deadending in what Kiest called “an area of wonderfully flat, bad existing drainage.” She pointed out that some have asked about P-Patch possibilities for the site, and she had concerns about the size, but said she would “leave (that) discussion to someone else.”
With that, the discussion broke into the small groups, table by table:
While the tables discussed the proposed designs and what they’d like to see in the park, FANNA’s Manuela Slye watched over two tables of small children making art:
After half an hour, each table was asked to have a spokesperson list a couple highlights of the discussion (with all written comments going to Kiest and FANNA for consideration in the next step of the process).
First table liked the idea of fixing the sidewalk, but expressed concern about the costs of any work on this park — “money’s tight, we’re closing schools.” They suggested perhaps a “phase two” somewhere down the road, when the economy improved; Kiest replied that she’s worked on many projects with multiple phases. They also liked the concept of replacing the asphalt area with greenscape.
Next table thought “a bench might be OK” and then asked the question: “We wonder, what happened to the playspace, it’s gone.” When Kiest explained the project had evolved, the table spokesperson pressed, “But why? That’s how this whole thing started.” Kiest’s reply: “What the group asked for in its proposal is a ‘natural playscape’. Working for them, as professionals, we are talking about making the site more enjoyable … We want children to feel safe and comfortable in our parks.”
At that point, a man elsewhere in the room interjected, “Taking over the asphalt can’t be done. You can’t limit the access to those properties.”
Kiest had a ready answer: “In even the ‘full stretch’ proposal, the asphalt (owned by an adjacent property) remains 44 feet wide, which is what’s required for access to a one-sided parking area.” She added that the Parks Department once had an agreement allowing the asphalt but it’s no longer in effect and they’d like it removed.
Another table thought the asphalt area could be turned into a “dog area,” and expressed interest in historical signs about the ferry history.
The spokesperson for the next table said that six of the seven people there did not want any changes to the park, but would like to see it better maintained. He added: “If the process could start again from the beginning, we might be open to some changes, but we think it has gone too fast.”
Next table’s spokesperson: “We like change. The current park is not that inviting. We like the ‘inner circle,’ expanding the park to the north, moving the bus stop.”
Dennis Ross spoke next, saying moving the bus stop “is not a good idea .. it would block access for property owners, as it is a heavily used bus area, and people would have to walk further — many walk several blocks already.” He also voiced “concern about the city’s economy … who’s going to pay for all this maintenance?” and reaffirmed support for the park as-is.
Next table: “Keep it simple – partly because of maintenance. Extending to the north is a good idea (but) we have concern about a sandbox because of animals in the area – cats, dogs, raccoons …” They said they would support adding benches.
Table after that: “We hadn’t previously known what part of this was city property. We like recapturing the asphalt area … That big intersection of asphalt there is rather treacherous.”
The following table suggested a kiosk in the south triangle with “pictures and story” about the area’s history.
Then a first-of-its-kind suggestion from the next table: “We’d like to see the park renamed after the former principal of West Seattle High, Gordon Hannaford, who was killed there while crossing the street.” (We don’t have the exact date of that crash, but it happened after Mr. Hannaford’s retirement in 1970; according to Seattle Public Schools‘ online history of WSHS, he had been with the school for more than 40 years. The naming suggestion was made by Mel Terrana.) That drew many murmurs of assent. That table also was interested in “maximizing the grass.”
Next table liked reclaiming the asphalt and fixing the sidewalks, while also expressing concern about cost, and about the possibility that too many improvements to the park would “invite vagrants.”
The table after that specifically opposed a sandbox but liked the asphalt reclamation and moving the bus stop.
With the table reports complete, Kiest outlined what happens next – “getting closer to a single drawing” at the 7 pm third and final workshop on April 16, at which she also promised to have “cost estimates so people can understand the priorities … and figure out what’s most important to you.”
The meeting ended with something that would have been unimaginable at the tumultuous first one – a round of applause. Some stayed afterward for one more look at the designs on an easel, and were still chatting as they moved out into the partly sunny morning.
Side notes: Our earlier coverage mentioned a man suffering chest pains during the meeting, requiring a call to 911. FANNA’s Ann Limbaugh posted a comment after that report saying he went to the hospital but is doing OK, and expressing thanks for those who helped. … FANNA has posted its recap of this morning here … Our previous coverage is all archived here, newest to oldest (so the older articles are below this one, when you go to that page).