By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A team of Seattle Parks managers and design consultants made it clear last night: They’re just beginning to dig into the details of one potential layout for the West Seattle Golf Course‘s future $3.4 million driving range.
Here’s what else they made clear: Whether you’re a golfer, a neighbor, or an occasional visitor to the vicinity, they want to hear from you about what they’re looking at – right now, and down the line as the design proceeds.
The 50-stall driving range has to go somewhere between the golf course’s 9th hole and 35th SW. The very-tentatively-sketched-out location (photo above shows roughed-out art displayed at the meeting) would require a whole lot of earth-moving and tree-removal – and would dramatically change the experience at West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park immediately west of the driving range (see the “dash” type marker on the left side of the drawing): What’s now a greenery-framed view to downtown would wind up on the other side of the net setup meant to keep golf balls from flying onto 35th – a net that would rise 50 to 90 feet above the street level at the viewpoint site.
Leading the team is Parks’ Garrett Farrell, who’s managed other high-profile West Seattle projects in the past two years, including the Southwest Pool renovations (WSB coverage here) and the newly completed Hiawatha Playfield renovations. He’s also in charge of upcoming work at Lincoln Park’s outdoor Colman Pool. (In the photo at right, that’s Farrell in the background, with Robert Thorpe in the foreground, from the design-consulting firm, RW Thorpe and Associates.)
The stakes are high here, not just for West Seattle Golf Course users, but for the entire golf program citywide (whose director Paul Wilkinson also was among the team staffing last night’s meeting) – the West Seattle driving range is the first major project to be built under the city’s Golf Master Plan. Thorpe said it could also be a model for “the next two or three” such projects.
And what makes a golf project like this different from other multimillion-dollar Parks projects is the fact that it’s meant to create an income-producing facility. In fact, as noted later in the meeting, if the driving range is successful enough, it could bring in enough income for a new clubhouse to be built – something that didn’t make the cut on the list of projects that went into the Golf Master Plan.
Less time was spent last night discussing specifics of how the driving range would operate – 50 stalls on two levels, 25 per level, each 10 feet wide, “similar to Interbay” – than discussing the challenges of the site. Farrell explained that they’d drilled test holes they’ve been monitoring for months to find out more about the water situation, for example, realizing there may well be natural springs and aqueducts – since the site has had wetland characteristics in the past. The project may wind up with artificial turf for a majority of its greenery, he said, which would provide yet another challenge for naturally wet soil.
Landscape architect Todd Schroeder listed other pros and cons of the site. On the pro side, this siting doesn’t affect the existing golf course. On the con side, the terrain of the site would require a “significant amount of grading,” cutting into the hillside between 35th (and Rotary Viewpoint Park) and the golf course. Tree removal, too – if you look at the site now (and the sketch above) there are more than a few trees both east of 35th and on the east side of the proposed site that would have to be removed, with the area to be replanted. The type of vegetation that has flourished there, it was suggested, is another hint at the underground water situation. And to shore up the hillside after grading may require everything from special walls to “nail-pinning” and French drains, among the possibilities that were mentioned.
The site’s characteristics also would result in a narrower-than-many driving range – about 260 feet wide, when many, according to Schroeder, are at least 400 feet wide; however, the expected length – 300 yards – exceeds many other facilities. “We have a budget,” he said, “and we have to deliver a Class A driving range within that budget.” ($2.5 million of the project’s funding – which is bond money – goes to construction, according to Farrell, with the other $900,000 going toward other costs, including design.)
Then, there’s the matter of that net. To keep most golf balls from flying over the net, it needs to be 120 feet high, said Schroeder. Considering that it’s currently 30 feet from Rotary Viewpoint Park down to the potential driving-range site below, that means a net rising up to 90 feet – equivalent to a nine-story building – over the park. If excavation was possible, to lower the driving range beneath the hillside, that could bring the height down – but that all depends on the geotechnical issues that the team mentioned again and again (especially underground water). The consultants think the facility will need nets on all sides. (They also believe the facility will incorporate tee boxes and a putting green.)
Aside from the height, they’re not sure how else Rotary Viewpoint Park might be affected – where a net pole will be placed, how much distance there will be between the poles – that all has yet to be worked out. And they know the driving range also will affect golf-course-adjacent Camp Long, particularly some of the trails at its northernmost end, where you currently can hike so far down that golfers are within shouting distance. They’re hoping light pollution won’t be a problem, aiming to use “downcast lighting” to address that.
Yet another challenge: Parking. The current plan calls for no new parking. One meeting attendee was handing out flyers proposing that the facility be built with underground parking, not just for the driving range, but also to create a park-and-ride for local transit users – that didn’t come up for open discussion, however, though Thorpe indicated parking is a topic that’s on the table as the design and location are refined.
Again, stressed Farrell, everything is up for discussion at this point: “We’re taking a long look at the site, because once we need to bite into it, we need to chew on it” – so they are reviewing all possible configurations/locations in that space between the 9th hole and 35th SW, and might very well come to the next public meeting with “another alternative.”
Suggested one attendee from the audience at that point: “Any driving range in West Seattle right now would be better than none.”
That segued into Q/A. Asked what would be different from the Interbay driving range, city golf director Wilkinson mentioned that for one, regulation golf balls would be used here, instead of the “limited-flight” type used there, but other details are yet to come.
Golfer and nearby resident Sharonn Meeks expressed concern about the proposed site’s effects – the nets and poles – on Rotary Viewpoint Park and its just-restored-and-returned totem pole, and about the potential parking crunch. She also called the team’s attention to another feature that’s in the Golf Master Plan, a perimeter trail, which is not scheduled for construction for several years. And she pointed out that her neighborhood – where she leads the Fairmount Community Association, though she stressed she was not attending or speaking in that official capacity – “will have some further questions … we’d like to have some more visuals and a little more knowledge about the water situation.” She also asked about operating hours; those too are yet to be determined, she was told, but 10 pm most of the time as a closing time, maybe 11 pm in the summer, was suggested. And she recalled earlier discussions in which the driving range was not proposed as close to 35th as it is now (a graphic from spring 2009 is in this WSB story).
“As a design team, we have all the same concerns,” Schroeder assured her. Meeks reiterated that, as a golfer, she is “very much in favor of this driving range,” but just voicing concerns to be sure it will turn out to be “a sustainable facility.”
Thorpe added a hope that it might also turn out to enhance the West Seattle Golf Course’s status as a training ground for young golfers who go on to play in college (etc.), even golfers who come here from outside the peninsula: “There’s an opportunity here if we seize it and do it right and within budget.” Wilkinson at that point explained that R.W. Thorpe was chosen from among 13 applicants for the project.
After Farrell pointed out they had a traffic expert on hand too, a question arose about the possibility of a stoplight at the golf-course entrance. Reply: That could be proposed, but the need for it won’t be clear until further into the process, when designers will have an idea of how much use the driving range might generate. There might be other options, such as a lane that could hold a six-car queue.
TIMELINE: The driving range is supposed to be in operation by spring of 2012. In the shorter run – another public meeting is expected next month – probably the second or third Wednesday in September, Thorpe projected – and the public is also welcome to attend Seattle Design Commission meetings downtown where the project will be reviewed (those dates aren’t set yet, but we’ll announce them here when they are).
MORE INFO/HOW TO COMMENT: The project’s official Parks Department webpage is here, and that has info on who to contact with comments. Farrell promised to get meeting notes up “within a week and a half,” and to add the project graphics as they are vetted. And again, you can read the city’s Golf Master Plan by going here.