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Park plans coming into focus

New picnic and play areas – and a restroom – head the list of public wants.

Waterfront Park users want to see the return of a real restroom facility.

And in a city-sponsored survey in January, island residents didn’t show much preference where it goes. Asked whether they preferred a location below or next to the park’s tennis courts, respondents offered such comments as, “Somewhere!”, “WHEREVER” and “Either, just build one!”

Even John DeMeyer, who runs sailing classes in the park for the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, had but one question when drawings of a new park master plan were revealed:

“I was just looking for where the bathrooms are,” he said.

Since an update to the Waterfront Park Master Plan was approved by the City Council in January, consultants from Linda Attaway Landscape Architecture have reviewed 821 surveys returned by park users; three design options were presented at a well-attended open house March 9.

Incorporating feedback from that meeting, the architects will present a “design synthesis plan” at next Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The designs is now on display at City Hall, with a journal for comments. An open house is planned from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, before the council meeting.

Main features of the design include restroom facilities below the tennis court; a well-defined and lit main walkway from the Brien Drive entry to the shoreline; moving the basketball court to a better spot closer to Brien Drive; a viewpoint at the water’s edge; sheltered and open picnic areas; dock improvements and extension; and replacing one tennis court with a creative play area and picnic shelter.

“Once we have a Master Plan,” said Randy Witt, public works director, “different groups can join in on elements they are interested in. This is a project that will be completed over years.”

Survey says

The new design addresses many of the desires voiced in the surveys and at the meeting March 9.

The survey gave new insight into how the public uses the park. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they use it for casual walks, picnics and lunch, and 35 percent for organized activities.

With multiple responses possible, 61 percent said they walk in the park, 63 percent go for special occasions and concerts, 32 percent use the playground, 31 percent use it for quiet time, 30 percent picnic and 25 percent use the boat launch.

Since many respondents use the park in the evening, path lighting was important.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said they want to maintain the “informal” character of the park, and several write-ins vehemently opposed removing trees to create a view of the water from Winslow Way.

At the same time, 45 percent of respondents said they wanted the park more oriented towards the shoreline. Comments on surveys said the park was “a place to be by the water,” with one suggestion for “a small covered gazebo with a water view.”

Thirty-three percent wanted a “natural” shoreline, while another 33 percent wanted a promenade. The proposed design takes the middle ground, with a short promenade between the dock and water viewpoint, while keeping most of the shoreline as is.

Space does not allow for additional trailer parking, although parking for vehicles with car-top boats was introduced.

The idea of a new portable stage pleased Sue Hylen, cultural arts supervisor for the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, who organizes the popular summer concerts in the park. Hylen said she will recommend that the old ship stage be placed so that it does not obstruct people’s view of the water.

“This will keep the music flowing one way,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to a covered stage.”

Seventy-one percent of survey respondents said they want new restrooms.

Tami Allen, harbormaster, said that if the council approves seed money to get started on a restroom facilities, she will apply for a state grant that would cover 75 percent of construction. Still, money would not be available until 2005 at the earliest.

In the meanwhile, the city is planning to improve facilities somewhat this year, in time to meet higher demand as the weather grows warmer.

“We were funded to provide deluxe port-a-potties or additional hours (to keep restrooms open) at the Commons,” Witt said. “And it’ll happen this summer.”

Rowing away

One outstanding issue for the park does not appear in the proposed master plan: where to store rowing shells used by the Bainbridge Island Rowing Club.

The rowing club, formed just over four years ago, started using Eagle Harbor for classes in 2001 and now stores its shells in a fenced area next to the tennis courts.

But while the city was working on proposals for a marina and new restroom at the park, they learned from the state Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation – which provided funds to purchase the parkland in 1974 – that the park deed does not allow the club’s shells to be stored there.

The deed stipulates that all elements of the park must be open to public use. While an equipment shed for maintenance is permitted, a harbormaster office would not, nor would shell storage.

But rowing club officials take issue with the idea that they are a private interest.

“An important distinction is, we don’t see to represent ourselves as a private rowing club,” Hudson said. “We’re a community club with an absolute commitment to introducing people to rowing. (The club represents) a huge spectrum of the community, and we offer scholarships for classes.”

The city, the rowing club, and the park district now are brainstorming for solutions.

One option is “conversion” of a portion of Waterfront Park – essentially buying a piece of the current park for shell storage, but also finding and acquiring a replacement property “of equivalent or greater monetary value and recreation opportunity or ‘utility.’” That would meet the restrictions against the current property deed.

Another option is to site a boathouse for shells elsewhere, on the former strawberry plant site at the foot of Weaver Road, or the Wyckoff property across the harbor. A boathouse for easy launching of shells would go much further than just providing storage, club members say.

John DeMeyer, aquatic supervisor for the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, has been running sailing and kayaking classes for 15 years, and said a small craft center at the proposed Pritchard Park – encompassing rowing, sailing and kayaking – would be a huge savings.

The timing of their activities would make shared use easy; rowers are active in the morning when the weather is calm, while sailing is active in windy afternoons.

“I feel it’s the only viable option on Eagle Harbor to have a real legitimate small craft center,” DeMeyer said. “This is the first glimmer of hope I’ve had (in 15 years). It’s an opportunity.

“I think others will see it too, after exhausting themselves as I have.”

Bainbridge Island Rowing Club president Myra Hudson said she was personally intrigued by the relocation idea, but has heard from club members that “it’s critical that we’re situated where we are.”

Students, their argument goes, walk to Waterfront Park from school for club activities. Adult rowers walk to the ferry after sunrise workouts or come off the ferry for evening events.

The rowing club now boasts a core group of 60 adults and 25 junior rowers, but also offers beginner “learn to row” classes June through August.

Adults range from 20 to 60 years old and some come from as far as Bangor and the Hood Canal area.

Hudson said the club is forming a study group to explore and research options with the city and the state.

Architect Todd Matthews said that although the rowing uses do not appear on the master plan now proposed, an area was left open in the plan “where shells could go without changing the plan. If we can get legal use, it can be installed.”

“The IAC has been patient because they know we’re trying to do this as a community,” harbormaster Tami Allen said. “But we need to solve this soon.”

* * *

Correction, March 24, 2004: Music organizers hope a new temporary stage will be positioned so that it does not obstruct views of the water. The story incorrectly referred to the current “ship stage,” which would be moved for use as a play apparatus.

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