By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
On the city’s Shoreline Street Ends map, it’s “SW Barton Street.”
To the community that has cared for it since 1999, it’s Cove Park, a small strip of public beach on Fauntleroy Cove, immediately north of the state-ferry dock.
For three years earlier this decade, it was off-limits, until the Barton Pump Station Upgrade Project was complete – a project that turned Cove Park into a staging area.
Preparing for the project, King County – which runs the pump station – bought the 68-year-old beachfront bungalow next to Cove Park and its 14,000-square-foot (counting tidelands) lot for $950,000 in 2008.
Community members say they were told the little white house would be somebody’s home again, once the project was over. Now, a different possibility has the little white house at the core of a tug of war, one that could be heard in the impassioned voices of those who spoke at a recent community meeting.
Since the meeting, Nevins has been working on a recommendation to present to Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre. He told us this week that his goal is to present one by the end of the month.
Two and a half weeks ago, he stood before about 70 people inside The Hall at Fauntleroy to recap the potential trade and listen to what those in attendance wanted to say about it – going up and down the rows to ask people one by one, rather than just asking whether anyone wanted to get up and speak.
Those who want it to remain a house offered a wide range of reasons, from concern about drawing more people to Cove Park and seeing the spillover onto the nearby private beach, to suspicion that this would somehow be paving the way for the terminal expansion that Washington State Ferries has previously sought and neighbors have long opposed.
They also asked the question: Why would King County want a trade, when the potential value of selling the little white house would seem to outstrip the nominal price it pays for a lease?
We put that question to King County post-meeting.
But first, here’s how Nevins outlined what’s on the table:
With the Barton Pump Station Upgrade Project completed – as of last year – King County doesn’t need the property any more. But right next door, Nevins said, “they have this really expensive facility in the street right of way … operating under a permit .. they would really like to own that property. They are proposing that they would … get ownership of the land underneath the pump station. Who would own and manage the property? As part of the street vacation process, the city would grant this property to the county and they would grant this property to the city. It could be owned by any department – logically, it would be owned by the Parks Department because it’s part of Cove Park and we are the only department that is set up to manage parks. … It would come to the city, Parks Department would own this piece of property … and the whole thing would be managed by the Parks Department under an agreement with Seattle Department of Transportation, working with the community.”
Skeptics at the meeting still asked over the ensuing hour or so, what would the county really get out of the deal, given that their lease payments are relatively low?
We took that question, post-meeting, to the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, which runs the pump station. Spokesperson Annie Kolb-Nelson replied:
King County’s process for surplus property entails first asking other public agencies or jurisdictions whether they are interested in purchasing it before it’s publicly listed for sale on the commercial market. The City of Seattle expressed interest in the Fauntleroy Way property for expanding the park.
The City of Seattle currently owns the street end that currently hosts the pump station. Our preference is to own the properties on which our facilities are located. WTD’s Barton Pump Station exists in public right-of-way for which the primary purpose is transportation. The pump station is a conditional use and was negotiated as a limited-term permit for the expansion of the facility. This ownership is the least desirable in terms of having to obtain permits and gaining access to our facility.
It is challenging to obtain regulatory approvals in a shoreline environment under normal conditions, but is further complicated since WTD does not own the site where the pump station is located.
At the Fauntleroy meeting, Nevins acknowledged at the start that “there have been questions about why is the city interested in this, there are plenty of parks around here … The Comp(rehensive) Plan tells us we should be trying to increase shoreline access in the city … for public use … Comp Plan and Shoreline Master Plan. We can’t afford to buy shoreline property, and here’s a chance to get (some) at pretty low cost … it seems we should look at every opportunity to expand public access to the shoreline .. that’s why we’re entertaining this idea.
“How can the department afford it (when they have trouble affording other maintenance)? We do have a Park District that supplements funds, it would be added to new facilities, so it would be part of our budget to maintain … the cost of maintenance is so small compared to the cost of bringing property like this under ownership.”
Two questions early on centered on whether SDOT would continue to manage the right of way (the street end), even after the county took over part of it.
Nevins replied, “If the county ended up with a portion of the right of way – the remainder would still be under the jurisdiction of SDOT. The park would be managed as a street-end park with the community and the Parks Department.” But the property outlined in red, in the aerial map above, the little white house and its surrounding property, wouldn’t “have to come under any particular department,” Nevins said. “It would most likely be under jurisdiction of Parks. … We would have an agreement with SDOT because the remainder of the park is in SDOT right of way.”
Concerns that surfaced repeatedly throughout the comment period involved whether SDOT ownership/management of the site would somehow make it more vulnerable to eventual acquisition by WSDOT for a ferry-dock expansion. Nevins was asked to clarify “the relationship between SDOT and WSDOT.”
His reply: “There is no relationship between the two. We are contemplating a transaction between King County and the city of Seattle … WSDOT of course runs the ferries … they have not approached the city or county about acquiring any of this right of way.”
Next question: “Is there anything that would prevent SDOT from vacating the current Cove Park and turning ownership over to the Parks Department?”
Nevins: “It could happen, and there are reasons we vacate right of way for parks – as an example, we have more enforcement in a park than in a right of way – if that was a stumbling block, we could look at vacating the whole thing so that we have more control of it.”
Some objections also focused on what it would cost city taxpayers to take on this added slice of beach. Maintenance would run about $15,000 a year, Nevins said Parks crews had told him.
What about the cost of tearing down the little white house? Nevins said that a lot of negotiation remained, and who would pick up that tab had not been determined, but it would cost somebody about $50,000. And the cost of losing the land on the property-tax rolls? Minimal, he said.
Once the questions were asked, it was on to concerns and other comments, heard in this order, with everyone in the room offered a chance to speak from where they were sitting. Each of the following represents a separate attendee, more than 60 in all (a few took a pass). These are our paraphrases of the heart of what each said (with some direct quotes):
-That adding more park land would add to parking pressure in nearby neighborhoods.
-Taking a house out of the mix would not help with the city’s desire for increased density of housing
-“So many unknowns” regarding costs, plan for the site
-Concern that the city is asking for a “blank check” and that the trade would be “a slippery slope … this community has a history of the ferry system coming in and trying to enlarge the dock.”
-Another voice for keeping it as a single-family house
-“To be able to widen that section for people to use as water and beach is fantastic for local families,” but: “I do have a concern as everybody else that there are drug dealers and drug action that take place down there – needles and things on the sand that I don’t want my children to pick up.”
-“While I’m all for keeping single-family homes intact … if you don’t (take this as a park) you’re never going to get it.”
-Cove Park has already drawn too many people who “set up their picnic lunch (and) spread out … (we and neighbors) own second-class tidelands … we pay taxes on it … it’s our property … I don’t want to see (more parkland) happen … it’s an invasion of our privacy.”
-“My main concern is the uncertainty around ownership and the ferry dock … there is a plan to rebuild the ferry dock in 13 years … you might remember the 1970s, 1980s plan to rebuild the ferry dock, controlled by the members of this community … what’s to keep WSF from (seeking expansion)? … so at this point I can’t support it until I understand the details.”
-“I’ve enjoyed Cove Park, I’ve enjoyed the beach all my life … I’m thinking we should keep the house there and use Cove Park the way it is.”
-“We really are blessed with parks … is that going to add that much? I don’t think so. Is this going to impact the neighborhood? I think so.” He mentions parties until 2 am, “and it takes until 4 in the morning until police show up, if they even do … there would be no buffer between the park and the single-family neighborhood ..”
-(Would) “much rather see this million-dollar property levied into 10 more street-end parks – one 35-foot park here isn’t worth it … we should take that money and get the other street-end parks developed,” 100 around the city, with the program’s small budget mostly spent on administration and maintenance.
-“I’m against it becoming a park, I want to see it kept a house, I feel that’s the deal that was made.”
-“Do we know that the pump station doesn’t want that property eventually?” and, could parking be built?
-In favor of expansion of the park, “I would like to see the vision of Cove Park expanded a bit … I’d like to see it guaranteed Parks land, not SDOT land, so there’s no chance WSF could get it in the future.”
-In favor of the expansion, would like to see a visioning process … maybe better ADA access … green stormwater infrastructure.
-“Fiercely against it. … a scant stone’s throw away is one of the biggest waterfront parks in the state … for those people who say they are in favor of it, they will not have to deal with the negative effects of it … so many poeple are trespassing along tidelands that those taxpayers pay for … those people are leaving their debris … bags of dog feces, hypodermic needles,” and cigarette butts.
-Cove Park has already attracted more off-leash dogs whose owners “don’t go to Lincoln Park because they’re going to get a ticket … I’ve had countless dogs in my house, lost, shaking …” (This speaker said they’d like to see the money instead go to other parks; Nevins clarified that if King County kept it and sold out, the money would go to the county, not the city.)
-Strongly opposed, “I think it’s wasteful spending. I’m tired of the government spending this way.”
-“We pay a lot to live down there, we pay taxes, I’ve never had a problem with people walking by and enjoying the beach … it’s encroachment on the beach … I think (the city has) a lot of waterfront access now, I see no need to add to it.”
-“I would rather have a neighbor than another 35 feet of park.”
-King County promised to sell the house and should keep that promise.
-“We have a beautiful little park down there – if it (gets bigger), more will be less.”
-“I think we should keep it a private residence.”
-“I want a park on the water but do we really need it? We have more than enough parks meeting our needs. I’d also like to talk about opportunity vs. costs. This is being put forward as an opportunity … but it will entail costs to the city … all the staff time as they work out agreements, the cost of tearing down the house, hiring a landscape designer, installation of landscaping, irrigation … all that can add up to a lot of money. Let’s talk about opportunity costs. The city park plan has a gap analysis. If you see the areas of the city in orange high-density urban villages, they have a deficit of open space If you look at our area, we don’t By spending the money here, we’re taking away from (other areas).” (He mentioned landbanked areas that Parks has elsewhere in West Seattle, suggesting that money spent here would take away from them; those areas actually already have development funding earmarked via the Park District levy.)
-“I have been taking my grandkids to cove park, it’s a perfect size, perfect location, I don’t think it has to be any bigger.”
-“I don’t think that by knocking down a single-family home and having more park space (there will be) an environmental advantage … maintenance is a huge concern now (for other public spaces) … We are a privileged community and a lot of communities would like to have this money spent on additional greenspace.”
-“As far as the impact to immediate neighborhood, I’m for this to continue being a house.”
-Against seeing the house taken away and parkland replacing it: “I feel sorry for the people living on the beach.”
-More privacy-invasion concerns about people trespassing on the private beach between Cove Park and Lincoln Park
-“Shocked at this turn of events” because King County had said it would return to being a single-family residence.
-Concerned that the expanded “footprint” that would result for Cove Park would be attractive for ferry-dock expansion, “if it goes to the city it should go to Parks Department because once they get something they don’t let it go.”
-Supports using it as park/open space because it will be important decades from now when the city is far more populated and people need more space to be “looking out to see the water.”
-“No reason we shouldn’t make that park bigger for more schoolchildren” like the ones who visit on field trips.
-“I have more questions than answers – (including) maintenance? … Why is King County giving up a million bucks (when) they’re only paying the city $8,400 a year? … Why does it look like a good deal to Parks?”
-“When I first heard about this, I thought of course, who doesn’t want parks? (But) my gut tells me something smells funny … I’m against it, I’d like to see it stay a house.”
-“I think we should never turn down the chance to turn private property into public property, when you’re talking about waterfront … I think we need to make that beach public … I don’t think parking will be an issue with the current restrictions.”
-Wants to see it stay a house. “I think there’s an issue about management of the (shore, already) – you have the right to go down to the lowest point of the tide but it seems like a complete free-for-all.”
-Against more parkland, people are already ignoring “no trespassing” signs, often with dogs in tow: “My whole walk has been changed, my whole feeling of safety…”
-“I’m 100 percent for enlarging Cove Park, I totally agree that any opportunity we have to get shoreline access, we should take … the density of Seattle, West Seattle is increasing, more traffic, less parking, those issues aren’t going to stop or go away because we don’t do a Cove Park expansion.”
-“We have Lincoln Park, it’s fabulous; why would we spend money to enlarge Cove Park when we have that?”
-Supports keeping the house. Didn’t realize Cove Park was not part of Seattle Parks since it’s an SDOT street end.
-For keeping it a house.
-Initially in favor of parkland, but came to listen to the issues. Thinks there’s confusion about rules about walking on the beach, supports signs explicitly pointing out the rules.
-Supports keeping it a house. “I was a little curious why the county would be willing to give up such a valuable property … made me wonder if something else wasn’t going on … I also have concerns about maintenance.”
-Not enough information to have an opinion.
-Not enough information – (but) “right now I can’t say I’m for the park because there’s too much we don’t know.”
-“I envision a pretty green space where my civic-minded husband and I could stroll … it’s something we hold dear … but having heard many of my waterfront neighbors, if this park does come into being, there should be one really good wall.”
Some laughter, after that.
-Another “not enough information” for an opinion.
-Self-described park lover says “give it to the geese.”
-“I’m for more parkland and access to the water but the uncertainty of what may happen is concerning … I would support expanding the park …” but concerned about possible future ferry-dock expansion.
-“Here to listen and learn.”
-“Here to listen.”
-“The problems that were described are really real … you’re not going to get rid of the dog problem by not expanding the park; it’s a true problem but it should be expressed in another forum. … I also have problem with the drinking and drugs in the park, that’s not going to go away whether you take down that house or not … the city needs to (address it) … I’d like all of us to step back at that and take a look at the land itself,” especially as possible green-stormwater infrastructure that could clean runoff water.
-“I support maintaining it as a house … I’d also like to comment on the uniqueness of the issues about this property … in almost every other instance where someone’s private property abuts a park, they can put up a fence … we can’t … the amount of people sitting and camping and treating it as a public beach has increased since Cove Park opened … you feel mean for kicking someone out of your front yard …”
-Keep it as a house.
-Long history of state ferry system trying to expand, so “I oppose the white house being turned into public property because that public property could be a ferry dock.”
(Nevins interjected at that point that he believed it would be easier for the state to buy a private house than public property.)
-“We are very park-rich in this neighborhood with lots of waterfront available to the public,” and the property taxes on that house could be useful spent elsewhere.
-“What would stop the next private owner from selling to WSDOT? Keeping it a public park seems to be (a surer bet to avoid that).”
-Against park expansion.
-Wants to see the home sold to a family.
-“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for Parks Department; it’s not often a piece of waterfront property comes up. As to concerns about ferry dock expansion, seems to me that expanding Cove Park is a better hedge against expanding the ferry dock, the broader community would be involved.”
-Supports more parkland, but also appreciates neighbors’ concerns.
-Next commenter asks for a show of hands, who wants it to stay a house? About two-thirds of the hands go up.
– “I can attest to what all the waterfront people said about traffic, dogs, trash. I think it’s naive to say by expanding a park that it’s not going to expand (all that). … I’d like to say, our little park is great.”
After everyone in the room had the opportunity to say something if they wanted to – Nevins explained what would happen next. He said the comments and reaction would be “distilled,” as would other comments he said he had already received. “But this (meeting) is important – you guys showed up.” Then, the result would go to Superintendent Aguirre, who would make a decision on the direction.
Even at that, he stressed again, it’s the first step of “what’s kind of a lengthy process,” potentially a year or more, with the City Council making the ultimate decision on whether to approve the “subterranean street vacation” that would be required.
As we mentioned earlier, Nevins told us this week that he’s hoping to get a recommendation to the superintendent by the end of this month. In the meantime, you can send comments to him at email@example.com – referencing the potential 8923 Fauntleroy Way SW acquisition.