Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
The future of the Myers Way Parcels – 30+ acres of city-owned land on the southeastern edge of West Seattle – may be decided by the end of the year.
Updates on the timetable and process were part of the discussion as a group organized by City Councilmember Lisa Herbold toured the site on Thursday. Among them, two staffers from the city Finance and Administrative Services department, which is responsible for city-owned real estate like this, a site that’s been considered for many things, even, in 2008, the municipal jail that ultimately never got built.
The city didn’t even want most of this land when it was purchased back in the early 2000s, FAS’s Hillary Hamilton and Michael Ashbrook explained – just 10 acres for the nearby Joint Training Facility, which is in plain view next door to the north:
Then-owner Nintendo of America would only sell the entire 50-acre parcel, so that’s what the city bought.
Now it is stuck in a multi-faceted tug-of-war:
Among those tugging are open-space advocates who say the chance to keep it undeveloped – as trees and wetlands and sprawling acreage – is an opportunity that won’t come again, and Mayor Murray, who declared last November that $5 million from a future Myers Parcels sale should go to help fund the city’s efforts to help people experiencing homelessness. And there are other financial considerations – some money is still owed on the land, as was explained in this WSB report in February 2015.
Then there are environmental and health considerations, since it’s part of the polluted Duwamish River‘s watershed. In fact, as a reminder that water isn’t far, with the river downslope to the east, a shorebird (killdeer, we think) made a cameo during the tour:
Birdsong could be heard everywhere – listen to our Instagram video (mouse over the window to find the play button, and click the image again to stop it), and that’s what you’ll hear along with some human chatter:
Tour participants included community members from Highland Park (HP Action Committee chair Gunner Scott), South Park (Paulina Lopez) and preschooler-age son Paul, and White Center (Marie Pino and Tony Vo from the WC Community Development Association), plus site neighbor David Eley, along with Mary Fleck from the WS-founded Seattle Green Spaces Coalition (which has a petition drive asking the city not to sell the land), as well as two City Council staffers – Andra Kranzler from Herbold’s staff and Nate Van Duzer from the office of City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who, Herbold pointed out, chairs the committee that will be tasked with the next consideration of the site’s fate.
In case you don’t know where the Myers Parcels are, here’s an aerial map from one of our stories last year:
(Click image to see city map of Myers Parcels as a full-size PDF)
If you’ve only driven, rode, or walked by, you probably would be surprised at its size. Here’s another Instagram-video pan, this time what you see from the other side of the gate:
There are gravel roads through the site, and we walked back to a steep slope, really more like a cliff, that would admittedly be undevelopable. At the end of the tour, woods with wetlands – after our recent dry spell, the wetlands weren’t obvious:
The FAS staffers explained that four wetlands around the Myers Parcels (which include land on the east side of Myers, as well as the west-side site we toured) were declared significant by the Army Corps of Engineers when it conducted a wetlands study (valid through 2017), though they’re not the only wetlands on the site.
Asked by Councilmember Herbold to detail the process for how the land’s fate will be determined, the FAS staffers said they’ve already asked other city departments if they have any interest: No. Seattle Parks, they explained, said it didn’t feel the need for more parkland in the area because of sizable Westcrest Park not far away.
They’ll soon be writing a “preliminary report” that will include information on the constraints and attributes of the site, and which of the city’s plans might “give guidance.”
Then, FAS would offer a “preliminary recommendation.”
Even before more public input? they were asked. Reply: “By framing an idea, you get reaction to that idea.”
The process of soliciting public comments – which, they stressed, are still welcome – is admittedly convoluted. If you’ve expressed interest in the site, you get notification – (Hilary) said that’s all the rules obligate them to do. The most recent round of concerns have involved the fact that it’s perceived many don’t know about this site, its publicly owned status, and its potential future sale. (We also pointed out that the webpages for the parcels don’t have much overview explaining what’s going on – you generally need to know what you’re looking for and what it means.)
FAS will have to take a “communication plan” to the City Council before the next step of determining the site’s fate. They promised “community meetings” would be organized. It was suggested multiple times that those meetings be at or at least near the land – perhaps, at the Joint Training Facility, with walking tours?
The draft report on the site and the proposed “communications plan” will likely be brought to the City Council for a briefing within six weeks, according to FAS. The meetings would follow – likely in June and July. What happened at those meetings would result in a “report on public involvement.” The mayor would review that, and then a proposal for final disposition of the land would go to the Council as soon as September. Its decision on the site’s fate would require a public hearing.
Subsequent discussion included a note that any proposal for use of the property – ostensibly after a sale – would likely get more scrutiny because of the Duwamish River’s proximity. But, Councilmember Herbold pointed out, “the property is (currently) in our stewardship (so) this is the time to take a closer look.”
South Park’s Lopez also reminded the city reps of the Duwamish Valley Health Assessment.
By the way, some myth-debunking – while Lowe’s had a proposal to buy some of the site in 2006, and the council had signed off at the time, that proposal is “very dead,” said FAS. The company changed its mind and withdrew its proposal. Since sale of the land is not currently authorized, there are no formal negotiations going on, but they’ve had interest from companies looking for warehouse-suitable sites.
Some of what might have generated more public knowledge of and interest in the site, it was revealed, has been on hold pending possible development: The west end of the site includes a vacated street, and as part of that, there were stipulations for “respite” features atop the hillside, such as “respite” (maybe a picnic table) and information on the wetlands.
While those stipulations apparently happened a decade ago, the FAS staffers acknowledged, the features hadn’t materialized, because it was expected they might become the responsibility of someone developing the site.
After an hour and a half of walking the gravel roads of the gated site, the tour ended, with no promises, but definitely a sense of urgency, and concern that the endgame for this site’s fate will play out over the summer months when many people in our region tend to have priorities other than paying rapt attention to civic matters.
Again, you can find out more about the Myers Way Parcels – at least, the city-provided basics – here. This notice explains how to comment (ignore the date – it was extended). If you have thoughts to share with Councilmember Herbold, on this issue or other(s), she is at email@example.com and has another West Seattle “office hours” day coming up for in-person conversation, next Friday (May 20th), noon-7 pm, at Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, in the SW Teen Life Center/Pool building at 2801 SW Thistle.