Tempers flare over tiny T'Chookwap ParkNeighbors are split over public water access.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:31 PM
By any standards, the view from the bluff is striking.Bobbing on the blue waters of Port Madison Bay below are a smattering of sail craft. Towering trees and a few homes line the far shoreline; the mouth of the bay itself yawns in the distance.It would make an exquisite building site.As it happens, though, the half-acre parcel is owned by the public - a pocket park created in 1992 and dubbed T'Chookwap, as the Suquamish once knew the bay.Since then, despite completion of a professional design plan, the park has never been improved. Now it is an epicenter of dispute, as public officials try to balance the concerns of some neighbors against the interests of the public at large.I think the biggest thing we heard from people is that we need more (water) access, park board member Daryle Schei said, after a public meeting Wednesday on the park's future. The last thing I want to hear is, there are so many problems with the neighbors, let's just put it up for sale.Pocket parkT'Chookwap Park sits on Spargur Loop Road, a quiet, one-and-a-half-lane track off Hidden Cove and Phelps roads.The city purchased the property from a private citizen in January 1992, for $257,000. The funds included a contribution of $137,000 from the Seattle Yacht Club next door, settling a legal dispute over ownership of an adjacent road end that was claimed by the club.A citizen committee was convened and considered various uses, issuing a report in May of that year. From those comments, a landscape designer came up with a conceptual plan that included a bench, a covered picnic area and stairs down to the bulkhead and perhaps an overwater platform.But the plan languished for want of funds, and the park has boasted little more than a sign and an occasional mow by park district crews.That was until 1999, when a Boy Scout volunteered to build the long-planned picnic shelter. City permits were acquired, but as the structure went up last fall, neighbors complained about its size.Indeed, the permit said the structure would measure 10x10x10 feet; when it went up it was 12x12x17.In a letter to Mayor Dwight Sutton last September, neighbor John Whitlow threatened to go to the Boy Scouts' regional council to block the project, which he said was not supported by the community.City officials agreed that the project had overstepped its permit, and contacted park officials.Roger Belieu, facilities manager for the park district and father of the Boy Scout, said he had only increased the dimensions of the shelter to make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nevertheless, the structure was moved to the new Hidden Cove ball field complex on Phelps Road, where it now sits at the far side of the grounds. After meetings with neighbors, park district administrators went so far as to take down the T'Chookwap Park sign itself; it sits in storage until the park's future is resolved.Then earlier this year, the city council reaffirmed the future of the park for public use by resolution.But a hearing before the council and park board Wednesday laid bare ongoing ill-will between advocates for public access, and those who oppose it - and between the neighbors themselves.The hearingWednesday, many cited the need for more public waterfront access on the island. Vince Larson, who served on the original citizen committee, acknowledged that many of the uses discussed by that group were left unresolved, including the possibility of a dock. But he called on officials to take the long view and improve public access.The water is what we came here for, it's what we live for, Larson said. You don't solve the problem of limited access to the water by further limiting access and discouraging access.Agate Point resident Brooke Thompson agreed, saying, In '91, there was need for (public water access), and there's even more need for it now.North-end resident Ralph Eells was more blunt, saying the uses contemplated by the original group had never been intended to be passive.It's an outrage to use the tax dollars of those of us in the hinterlands to provide a semi-private preserve for the millionaire landowners next door, Eells said.The most vocal opponents of improvements were Craig and Kay Compton, who purchased a parcel immediately to the east in the years after the park was created.Kay Compton said Port Madison already sees considerable use by boaters, and that construction of a public dock would draw even more; some boaters, she said, have landed on their own private dock thinking it would lead them to the park.Craig Compton berated proponents as unable to comment on the issue intelligently, and took issue with the idea of public water access itself, saying, The people who don't have access to the water made the choice to buy landlocked property. It isn't written down anywhere that you have the right to water access.His wife presented a list of what the neighborhood doesn't want at the park, including structures, toilets and some other amenities that had been discussed.Spargur Loop resident Mark Lassoff, though, said the threat to the neighborhood isn't the presence of the park, but rather the yacht club next door.Every one of their members uses our street to entertain themselves, to walk their dogs and sometime to be abusive, he said. Other residents of the street also called for improvements and water access.Under an interlocal agreement, the city retains ownership of the park, but leaves maintenance and improvements to the park district.After the meeting, council members charged park officials with consulting with neighbors and others to review the long-standing design plans.At their Thursday evening, park board members agreed to review the document - conditionally.It's probably appropriate in my view, park board member Ken DeWitt said. It's been eight years, it never got built, and things do change.At the same time, he called the current plan perfectly fine, and other board members were resolute about ensuring public use and creating water access if at all possible.That park belongs to the citizens of the island, whether you live on Spargur Loop or Point White, park board member Daryle Schei said. There should be access to the water, because it is a park.