FOLLOWUP: Neighbor, city argue their sides of Westcrest Park off-leash-area project appeal

(WSB photo from October, site currently planned as temporary off-leash area at Westcrest)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

It was the lowest-key proceeding we’ve ever covered in the city Hearing Examiner‘s room downtown.

On one side of the table in the windowless room on the 40th floor of the city’s Municipal Tower, West Seattleite Inge Anderson, making the case for her appeal of the “determination of non-significance” regarding the upcoming drainage work that will close West Seattle’s only off-leash area, at Westcrest Park, for up to six months.

On the other side, Seattle ParksDavid Graves.

At the head of the table, Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil and assistant Galen Edlund-Cho.

Under the table, Anderson’s service dog.

In the gallery, no one but your editor here. In some cases, the table is full – with lawyers and witnesses – and spectators fill the seats. Not this time.

We previewed the hearing last Sunday. Anderson contends that the city’s plan will be a hardship on the hundreds of dogs and owners who use the park each day, because Parks intends to open only a much-smaller arra of Westcrest as its replacement. But that wasn’t the only point she argued.

Vancil expects to issue a written ruling “after the holidays.” Here’s how the hearing went:

In appeals of city decisions, the burden is on the appellant to prove that the decision should be overturned. It’s also up to the appellant to be able to sort out the rules and procedures. Before giving the floor to Anderson to present her case, Vancil explained why her written communication requesting a Parks witness besides Graves – project manager Emily Griffiths – hadn’t resulted in a demand for her presence. (Neither side called any witnesses.)

Vancil expressed empathy, saying he’s “very familiar with challenges presented to pro se litigants” (those representing themselves) and acknowledging that it’s “a very convoluted process,” but – it is what it is. On with the testimony.

Anderson alleged that the city DNS – an oft-issued declaration that a full Environmental Impact Statement isn’t required – relied on misrepresentation. She told the backstory of learning about the project via a “little paper” at the park, near which she lives, and which she and her dog visit four times a day.

She spoke of contacting Parks to ask about opening another part of Westcrest – the “grassy area” atop the covered reservoir – as a substitute. Parks initially said it would leave the “small/shy dog area” open, and that it couldn’t use the larger grassy area, citing Seattle Public Utilities ownership as well as a potential $35,000 cost (apparently for a temporary fence).

Anderson contacted SPU herself and was told in email that they could give Parks permission to use that space. (We checked back with Parks post-hearing and they continue to say it’s not a permissible use at a covered reservoir.)

So next she sought quotes for fencing the area she thought would be a better, bigger temporary off-leash area. She said she obtained quotes ranging from $2,100 to $5,100 for what Parks told her would cost $35,000, and that she’d pay the $2,100 herself if that would help. (She acknowledged Parks’ sum likely included some other costs such as reseeding, but didn’t see how that would approach $35,000.)

Anderson said mediation of her appeal was suggested and she was open to it, but Parks declined. In the meantime, she said, she had obtained the plans for the drainage project a few days before the hearing and was alarmed to see the planned substitute off-leash area only a third of an acre in size. With nearly 1,000 dogs a day visiting the OLA in nice weather, she foresees a “huge nuisance” of dogs running on unfenced land when the substitute area is out of room.

She also tried to bring up the lack of available information about the drainage project itself; Vancil told her that while she could do that “to preserve the issue” for reference, he won’t consider it in the appeal because it wasn’t part of her original filing. Anderson countered that it’s hard to appeal information to which you don’t have access. She made it clear she wasn’t challenging the need for the work itself – it’s “wonderful, really good news,” she said – but what she had recently found suggested “it’s a drainage project but no drainage solution.”

Her subsequent pursuit of information through a public-disclosure request led her to the discovery that both Parks and SPU were aware of the drainage challenges 13 years ago, but there is an agreement that she says releases SPU from “future maintenance problems on the reservoir” though the problem seems to involve water flowing from the SPU site to Parks property.

The third issue she raised involved what she considered the plans insufficiently addressing designations for the site such as Environmental Critical Area and blue-heron habitat.

Anderson’s presentation ran less than an hour, but Graves was even briefer. He stressed that Parks’ project will temporarily close the off-leash area, not the rest of Westcrest Park, where dogs on leashes will continue to be welcome.

Graves said the project required a State Environmental Policy Act checklist because it will involve an extensive amount of grading. He suggested the off-leash area’s total closure might only last two weeks (we checked later with Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin, who said that they’re still expecting up to six months). The timeline won’t be fully clear until they send the project out to bid, and that won’t happen until they have permits, he said. The full plan wasn’t ready at the time Parks gave notice of the Determination of Non-Significance, he said, because the checklist is usually done at the 60 percent design milestone.

He also offered explanations for the Environmrntal Critical Area exemption, saying “most cities” are empowered to write those, and the heron-habitat designation, noting that there’s a rookery downslope on the Duwamish River that “tends to move around.”

Finally, he said Parks had worked with the advocacy group Citizens for Off-Leash Areas to figure out where off-leash users could be accommodated during the closure, and their “intention was to maximize but not cut off other park” uses.

After less than an hour and a half, Anderson and Graves got to recap their respective contentions. She reiterated that the proposed temporary off-leash area will be too small, and that while the drainage project is much-needed, it needs to be done right. He said Parks sympathizes with dog owners but “a personal inconvenience does not equal a significant environmental impact.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Vancil said he’ll issue his written decision after New Year’s Day. You can watch for it in the online case file here; what’s already linked there includes the official minutes and audio recordings from the hearing this past Monday, and case documents. The Hearing Examiner’s ruling is the city’s final word on a matter; any further challenge would have to be taken to court.

13 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Neighbor, city argue their sides of Westcrest Park off-leash-area project appeal"

  • Zmmr December 21, 2019 (5:09 am)

    User fees.. Charge each dog 30$ per hr to use the park.Dog poop bag…10$ eachGreat ideas to make money from dog owners.

  • Question Authority December 21, 2019 (9:35 am)

    Who’s a fan of increasing the chance of contaminating a pristine drinking water supply?  The needs of humans should always come before animals, even as a pet owner I appreciate and deserve clean disease-free water.

  • There it is... December 21, 2019 (11:23 am)

    Read it over again and again. Even if you think the dog park isn’t important to you. The city does nothing here but move the goalposts against the person who goes to the trouble of going through their process to raise issues. A regular person shows evidence of a $30,000 spread in cost overruns, isn’t shown the process to bring the right people into her hearing and ignores documented e-mail permissions and timeframes laid out by his own colleagues. Wonder why people don’t trust government-  it’s on display here. 

    • Question Authority December 21, 2019 (2:09 pm)

      Documented email permission it’s just an email, it’s not a final decision or a legal standing order.  

      • Correct... December 22, 2019 (8:30 am)

        It’s just an exposure of either incompetence or laziness on the part of the Parks dept. They cited ownership of SPU and a $35,000 price tag for fencing as their reasoning for not giving an allowance. These were addressed as a matter of course in the appeal. She got permission from SPU and got quotes at a fraction of the cost for fencing. She pretty much did their job for them. 

  • dsa December 21, 2019 (12:16 pm)

    “,,,a personal inconvenience does not equal a significant environmental impact…”   Note to Mr Graves:  Multiply that personal inconvenience by 1000 users.  Just because Inga was the only person who  had the time  to fight the *agency determination* of Declaration of Non Significance, does not mean no  significant impact exists. 

  • ITotallyAgreeWithYou December 21, 2019 (1:30 pm)

    Wow! I thank Inge Anderson for paying attention, doing research on this project, and challenging it (investing no insignificant amount of time, I’m sure) if for no other reason than to expose the imbalance of a private citizen  against our government entities. It is not right that a private citizen should be expected to go in with the same level of knowledge about the process as those who work in the system and are SOL when they aren’t. They should be given equal footing in regards to navigating the process effectively. And thanks (to WSB as well) for exposing the many flat-out lies and stonewalling. A hearing based on lies should be nullified.

    • Glenda December 21, 2019 (3:30 pm)

      Great idea ITAWY-anyone who wants ants to challenge the city, for any reason, with no knowledge of the system- or impact/feasibility of implementation of their cure- should have access to full legal support and ability to drag our already maxed-out city government through a mire of superfluous hearings. Let’s do that- yes. 

  • TJ December 21, 2019 (1:48 pm)

    Perhaps a dense city (and that some people want even denser) isn’t the place for large athletic dogs to live in small 4th floor apartments. I say that because I know someone who lives in a new building here on the 4th floor and laments the fact her lab is in there. I have a large dog but she has my big back yard and am not reliant on the city providing me a place to exercise her.  I see people coming out of these new buildings with larger dogs on a leash and know a concrete jungle isn’t a good place for them. 

    • flimflam December 21, 2019 (5:06 pm)

      aww, bro – everything is for everyone all the time now! catch up!

    • Ak December 23, 2019 (9:43 am)

      I think you grossly misunderstand what the majority of the dog owners using Westcrest Off Leash area use it for.  Also, I think you have some general misunderstanding of dogs and dog breeds as well.  I have a small 26lb dog, and he’s high energy (faster than most labs too) yet people would think he’s a great apartment dog.  Fortunately for us, and him, we don’t live in a house and have a fenced in yard, the means to send him to daycare a couple days a week, and walk him regularly.  However, your comment comes across as though the only responsible dog owners are those who have acres of land to let their dog roam free on.  And you’re not even mentioning the social aspect.  Sure, we take our dog to Westcrest so he can run around freely and pick up much greater speed than he can in our yard, but outside of that, he also uses that time to socialize with other dogs and work on socialization skills, play with friends, and experience different smells and experiences.  Additionally – we get to socialize with other dog owners and trade tips and experiences about local dog friendly places, daycares, dog walkers, food, etc.. it’s more than just ‘space to exercise’ the animals. I also don’t see how taking a dog to an off leash park is ANY different than taking your kid to a playground with a jungle gym – unless you’re going to also say people shouldn’t be parents if they can’t provide enough space in their houses for a full jungle gym and also multiple children so their kid can learn to socialize with others?

      • Glenda December 24, 2019 (3:49 am)

        AK- dogs and kids are not the same- not even remotely similar needs. Dog owners frequently make this comparison, but as a parent, I can tell you it’s a fools notion. You can’t lock your toddler in a cage when you go to work in the morning. You and every grownup you know was a kid, and kids are not dogs. 

        • bolo December 26, 2019 (9:29 pm)

          Kids/dogs not interchangeable, Amen to that Glenda.

          Althou dogs are surrogate kids to some…

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