By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Back in April, we reported briefly on tree-cutting along the northwest approach to Schmitz Park. When asked, Seattle Parks told us that it was part of a “restoration project” that also would “make permanent an informal pathway up a steep hillside for safety.”
Now, with construction imminent, neighbors suddenly learned that plan involves building a full-fledged stairway up a slope where they insist there is no “informal pathway” – a stairway that would lead to and from a spot where there isn’t even a sidewalk, the corner of 57th and Stevens [map].
Outreach on the project was minimal, admitted two Parks managers who came to the site Monday afternoon for an outdoor meeting with upset neighbors, but they blamed that on the project proceeding in the early months of the pandemic, when public entities (among others) had to figure out new communications methods.
Michelle Whitfield and Kim Baldwin told the neighbors they were there to “hear your voices.” One clear voice promptly rang out: “Are you able to change the plans?”
No promises, the two said. Then they got into some backstory.
This dates back a few years, to a community survey about the city’s Olmsted parks, including Schmitz Preserve. We published a short story about it at the time, they noted. (Here’s what we published in 2019.) The city studied 80 Olmsted parks and chose three for “maintenance” projects.
“This is a brand-new structure,” pointed out one neighbor. “How is it a ‘maintenance project’?”
It’s “maintaining the slope” because of the trail at the spot, the Parks reps replied.
No, protested neighbors, there’s no trail at 57th/Stevens. Further down the block to the west, by the park entrance, yes:
But not at the blind corner where a narrow block of Stevens turns into a not-much-wider 57th. The Parks managers insisted they “were hearing” there’s a trail on that slope, maybe overgrown, but definitely there. They said they had surveyed some park users and some people at Alki Elementary, adjacent to the park entrance one block west. The neighbors – most of whom said they had lived in the area for double digits – continued to insist, “There’s no goat path here.”
The path/no-path standoff eventually gave way to an exploration of why the neighbors weren’t notified about the stairway plan.
“No plans showed a stairway here, or we would have jumped on it,” said one resident. If not for a crew showing up spray-painting markings, “how would we EVER have known?” (Even this May news release didn’t pinpoint that particular location.)
The Parks managers tried gamely to discuss other points of the project, including the 12 big old trees removed because they were “diseased,” and “re-vegetation” along the “goat trails” further west on the slope.
Some of the weedy tangle on the slope is being replaced by turf; rolls were in view waiting at the foot of the slope. Parks says their crews will maintain the resulting grass. But the sidewalklessness resurfaced in the discussion. “How is this a safety improvement?” asked one neighbor.
“This will implement the original Olmsted version of connecting Schmitz Park to Alki,” insisted Whitfield.
How, when the stairway will drop people onto a residential street 2+ blocks south of the spot where a beachfront restroom is being rebuilt?
Some asked if the stairway would be lit. No – no new lighting in a “natural area,” the Parks managers said. Without lighting, the residents countered, the stairway would be an ideal gathering spot for “illicit activities” they said were already happening in the area at night – they mentioned finding “condoms, pot, needles” in their yard in the morning. “We don’t need another place for them to do it.”
The questions turned to some practical points. How much is the stairway supposed to cost? $54,000. When is the construction scheduled? August. Who will do the construction? Parks crews. Have they already procured the materials? Yes. Has this kind of project happened at other parks? “We do this all the time.”
It seems like “a solution in search of a problem,” contended another neighbor.
One attendee expressed appreciation that Schmitz Park was set to get some TLC, “but I just wish the community had been consulted.”
This kind of meeting should have been held at the start of planning, not when an about-to-be-built project suddenly comes to light, scolded another resident.
Before packing up their easels and table, the Parks reps promised they’d be talking to their bosses – including Superintendent Jesús Aguirre – and getting back to the neighbors by the end of the week.
(We requested electronic copies of the plans today, but were told we won’t get them before tomorrow. We’ll add them to this story once we do.)