Report calls for more parks downtown

At Waterfront Park, Ellie Montaperto gives Rose and Salvatore Spills a big push.   - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
At Waterfront Park, Ellie Montaperto gives Rose and Salvatore Spills a big push.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

City should act now before more parcels are lost to growth,

a task force says.

On a blue-skied but blustery Monday afternoon, a mere handful of toddlers scampered around the slides and swings at Waterfront Park.

But Janelle Hanrahan, who was watching pre-schoolers Annie and Mary Brooks spin on a swing set, said the playground is often full of children.

“This is a very important park,” she said. “Sometimes during the day it will be absolutely packed here, there will be 20 or 30 kids.”

As Winslow’s population continues to grow and development nibbles away at the empty green spaces in the town, a new Winslow Park Task Force says the city will be in a squeeze to provide amenities like Waterfront Park in densely populated neighborhoods.

After a summer of research, the citizen panel has an urgent message for the city: more land for parks must be purchased in Winslow before opportunities are lost.

“I don’t think anyone is going to disagree that it’s urgent to buy land now,” said task force chair and park board member Dave Shorett. “It’s just a matter of how much and what kinds of parks.”

The seven-member group, organized by the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District in May, sent the executive summary of its report to city officials and council members this week. The task force hopes to make buying open space in Winslow a priority in the 2008 budget and an issue in the upcoming elections.

The task force stresses fast action because it believes the city must start nailing down funding for open space now, or risk missing out on chances to buy land in Winslow in coming years.

“I think land will come up for sale, land will be sold and opportunities will be lost,” Shorett said. “You don’t turn developed land into park land.”

To back up its point, the task force leaned on a study by the city’s 2025 Growth Advisory Committee, which projects that more than 10,000 people will live in Winslow by 2025.

Currently only 13 percent of the city’s preserved open space is in the Winslow area, so there should be a focus on creating new parks to serve what will soon be a disproportionately dense population center, the task force report said.

Though the need for Winslow parks has been addressed in eight previous studies, the report said there also needs to be an overarching strategy for securing open space in Winslow.

It recommends that the city identify sources for $10 million over the next two years to buy undeveloped land.

It’s a big chunk of change considering the Open Space Commission, which has coordinated the city’s land buys since 2001, has exhausted its original $8 million and has had to incorporate new city bonds into recent proposals.

Open Space commissioner Andy Maron said a big part of the reason the city has bought open space outside of Winslow is that it’s more available and cheaper than it would be downtown.

If the opportunity arose, the city would love to buy land in Winslow, he said.

“We’re well aware of the need to improve parks in Winslow, so no, we don’t need direction to do that,” Maron said.

The availability of land in Winslow will be major challenge.

The task force is working on indexing “underdeveloped” parcels that the city should be keep an eye on, but only one of the five listed in the report was on the market: a one-acre lot at Knetchel and Ericksen.

The city will also have to contend with the higher price of land.

“One of the things that has become glaringly clear over the last couple of years is that the miraculous things the Open Space Commission has done across the island with $8 million couldn’t be done today, and certainly not downtown,” council member Chris Snow said. “And that $8 million is gone.”

Still Snow was among several council members who said they supported making parks in Winslow a high priority.

Councilman Nezam Tooloee called the task force’s findings “spot on, 100 percent accurate” and said he was ready to start looking at ways to set aside the $10 million.

“This is the kind of priority where the council should use councilmanic bonds, because there are very few other ways to pay for something like this,” he said. “Instead, the council is being asked to use bonds to do things like pave a street where there are plenty of other ways to pay for it.”

Council member Debbie Vancil is ready to move forward as well.

“I think it’s long overdue,” she said. “I’m delighted it has come before the council before we have gotten too deep in the budget process.”

Vancil said the current draft budget has “unbalanced priorities” and would like open space to get more attention soon to stay ahead of development.

“Open space and affordable housing have something in common: they are opportunity driven,” she said. “We a can’t just whistle them up whenever we want.”

The task force would like the city to consider more creative means for funding, like a real estate excise tax or a land dedication standard where new development would be required to include a certain amount of open space.

Whichever route the city decides to go, it needs to bite the bullet and buy land, Shorrett said.

“The city can always sell it,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to lose money buying land in (Winslow).”

The task force also recommends the city survey citizens to find out what kind of parks are wanted and where. It should have been the first step, Shorett said.

At Waterfront Park, nanny Rita Fortner was gathering her charge Bryn Tiernan to head home. She said she would like to see a covered play area and a wider variety of parks for starters.

“It would be nice to have more options,” she said.

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