Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Three design concepts for the future park site on the long-landbanked southwest corner of 48th/Charlestown were presented and discussed at this week’s public meeting at Dakota Place Park.
The concepts, developed based on recent community feedback including an online survey and a February drop-in event, are:
- Concept design 1: “dog friendly” (a portion of the park is a 2,000 sq ft off-leash dog area)
- Concept design 2: “community green” (the park’s central feature is an open green area)
- Concept design 3: “neighborhood play” (part of the park contains playground equipment)
Here is a PDF showing the complete concept details and visuals for each of the three options:
Meeting notes from Tuesday night:
The meeting began with opening remarks from Pottharst (pictured below at right, in front of the screen) and his Parks colleague Kent Scott (at left, speaking) as well as principal landscape architect Lisa Corry from Cascade Design Collaborative (at center)
Attendees were also welcomed by Molly Magnifico (pictured below, speaking), the recently elected president of the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council, who spoke about the unique opportunity for neighbors to have a voice in how the park takes shape.
In addition to Corry, Cascade Design Collaborative was represented by landscape architect Cindy Talley (pictured above, at left) and project manager Liz Browning (at right) who is also a longtime West Seattleite and is quite familiar with the 48th/Charlestown space.
Pottharst reiterated that the overall goal is to design and build a new neighborhood park, and to incorporate as much community input as possible. Pottharst is the point-person from Parks for the design process, and Scott will be the project manager for construction next year. When attendees at the meeting were asked “who filled out our previous online survey?” most of the hands in the room went up. Scott said this is a great sign that the process is working to inform the design, which Scott said is crucial particularly because the 48th/Charlestown lot is a “blank slate” that is relatively flat, which allows for lots of possible options to capture “what the park represents for the neighborhood.” Scott provided some examples of what he considers to be successful efforts to do that: Fremont Peak Park (incorporating themes of “minotaur” mythology and cosmological events), and Greenbridge in White Center (with a “global focus” paying homage to other cities worldwide with similarities to Seattle).
Liz Browning then talked more about the goals of the project: “how do we honor the neighborhood and its values?” and “build on West Seattle’s tradition of great parks and great open spaces, and build a park that’s an extension of our own front yard.” The best design would be something that serves multiple purposes as a community destination — a place to “go on a summer evening with kids, or sit and be quiet and read a book.”
Comment from an attendee: She said she lives on the block where the park will be located, and loves the fact that there are “at least 20 kids who live around there,” and her 9-year-old son is able to safely walk around the area with friends and feel safe. She added that her family had helped pass out fliers about the park site, and hopes that those giving feedback on the design options also keep that “kids in the neighborhood” focus in mind.
Browning added some additional information about the site — it sits at a low elevation compared to the neighborhood around it (particularly the hill to the east) and the site itself has a very slight slope. She said there is a code requirement for the project planners to include some bioretention at the site. She added that the team plans to keep and enhance the existing “street trees” (Atlas cedars) at the site. In response to an audience question about how old those Atlas cedars are, the response was “probably 20-30 years old” and that those trees grow fast.
Because the site and surrounding area is Duwamish tribal land, Browning said, the team hopes to reflect that in the park design in some way, with aspects of storytelling, art and/or native plantings. Browning then asked if anybody in the audience knew what used to be at the site (prior to Providence Mount St. Vincent owning it) and several people did — it was a neighborhood grocery store. Browning said that her mother fondly “remembers buying candy at that store” and going to meet the neighbors, and that the project team wants to keep that same community spirit in mind to honor the memory of the space.
Browning showed some slides of the area and said the team has done a lot of site analysis, thinking about factors like sun/shade, utilities, entrances and exits, and so forth. They have a mandate to minimize the amount of “impervious surface” at the park to no more than 15%, which would be less than 2200 sq ft. Compared to other parks in the area, Browning said, the 48th/Charlestown lot is small and they want to make smart use of the space.
Browning said that the online survey done earlier this year yielded 539 responses, and definitely resulted in some themes that the team could use. The top 5 feature requests: dog amenities, nature play, loop path, community garden, and structured play. The project team took that data, combined it with their own research about the site and the options available to them (as well as factors such as ongoing maintenance), and landed on the three early design concepts that they unveiled at the meeting. Some additional commentary from the team regarding those designs:
- Concept design 1: “dog friendly” — The goal is to have a place where you can enjoy the space with your dog and your family, a safe and pleasant environment, to not be overwhelmed by either dogs or by people. There would be an off-leash dog area, about 2000 sq ft in size, separated from the rest of the park by low plantings. The site itself would be surrounded on the south and west by a natural buffer, with an area of quiet seating and a loop path, allowing dog owners to “hang out and watch their dogs without being in the off-leash area with them.” The idea is to “separate the uses” (dog area and the rest of the park) but allow for plenty of visibility so the park feels whole, “whether you’re a dog person or not.” Browning acknowledged that one of the concerns with this option is whether the off-leash area is large enough to make it worthwhile. Other similar off-leash parks tend to be larger, Browning said, such as Denny Park (4600 sf), Regrade Park (13,600 sf) and of course the massively larger Westcrest Park (366,000 sf, although there is also a smaller area there).
- Concept design 2: “community green” — This design focuses on multi-use flexible park activities, Browning said, everything from playing games to sitting in the grass. The centerpiece is the green space itself, front and center, serving a classic “town green” purpose. Browning said the lawn could be built with a slight mound to it, with a loop path around the park, and toward the entrance of the park there could be some simple some furnishings and areas to sit. The plan also incorporates a nature path and a natural play area.
- Concept design 3: “neighborhood play” — Browning said the inspiration here is “a childhood summer day, grass-stained knees, running around with other kids,” focusing on kids’ play but also making the park a place where entire families want to be. Whereas the focus of Ercolini Park is more for providing a play area for younger children, Browning said the idea of this particular 48th/Charlestown design is “probably kids older than 5.” Features include a play area, limited in size because of its impervious surface (because of compaction, even a play surface of softer “chips” is considered impervious, Browning said). The north edge of park could be a garden-focused path area.
Browning and the team said that while Seattle Parks has the ultimate say regarding the final design of the park, the feedback from the community will be crucial to help create the best overall option. A question from the audience: How do we ensure that the responses are from actual neighborhood residents? The answer: We ask for zip code in the survey response, but every response (regardless of home zip code) has the same weight. Another question: Since there isn’t very much parking in the area, and none of the plans contain parking, is this going to be considered a neighborhood park? Answer: Yes, it will.
Browning and the team concluded the presentation and broke into groups for the remainder of the meeting, one group for each of the three design options, and attendees rotated between tables to learn more, discuss details and give feedback:
Each area had large sheets of paper for writing feedback, which neighbors including Deb Barker took advantage of:
Other ideas came up during the discussions, among them the notion of a community garden (“p-patch“) for growing things, preferred by neighbors including Mary Fleck (past president of the Genesee/Schmitz group), who cited strong neighborhood support for the idea. Fleck said similar attempts to do that on the site in the past didn’t work because water wasn’t readily available (neighboring apartments provided it, until that couldn’t happen anymore), but Fleck said the new park would have the necessary utilities to provide water for gardens, and she would love to see it come to fruition.
A questionnaire was passed around for attendees to fill out with their feedback about the design options, along with a reminder to watch for the online survey available soon (expected to be available for two weeks after it’s launched), (link added 5/10) and to send feedback directly to Pottharst (who is the primary project contact at this stage) at Ed.Pottharst@seattle.gov.