News

Another flap at T'Chookwap

Proposed sale of the tiny north-end park is opposed by many neighbors.

The City Council held off on staking a “For Sale” sign at a Port Madison park Wednesday, allowing more time to let residents hear the sales pitch.

“The discussion is premature about selling this property,” said Councilwoman Deborah Vancil about a resolution that would authorize the sale of T’Chookwap Park, a half-acre waterfront parcel on Spargur Loop Road. “This is very difficult. I’m disappointed to see it happen. It reminds me of Kallgren Road all over again.”

Councilors ex­pressed reservations on deciding the park’s fate, after Spargur Loop neighbors voiced a strong desire for the city to keep the park.

The outcry reminded some councilors of the neighborhood-led fight to prevent conversion of a forested path at the north end of Kallgren Road into a throughway.

In a similar case of the city eyeing what it considers the greater good, the Open Space Commission proposed the sale of T’Chookwap in the hopes of generating about $500,000 for land purchases elsewhere.

“In our vision, we tried to spread things out and look at (open space) diversity around the island,” said commission member Tim Bailey of the proposed park sale. “We thought it made total sense to sell it.”

Adding their voice to the chorus advocating the park’s sale are members of the Seattle Yacht Club, who hope to expand their facility next door.

But, like the Kallgren neighborhood, some T’Chookwap area residents fear the loss of a community amenity.

“The view from the bluff is striking,” Spargur Loop resident Hilary Franz said of the park’s vista. “It’s something you can’t get anywhere else. We’re not waterfront property owners. We stop there often and look out over the water. We don’t want to feel removed from that even though we live on an island.”

Franz’s children play and pick blackberries at the park, while other residents say the parcel is often used by dog walkers and bicyclists desiring a scenic pit stop.

Some of the park’s supporters fear that the property’s sale could lead to more park sales on the island.

“This could set a precedent: when funds are low, just sell parks,” Franz said. “That makes me very nervous. I wonder where this could go.”

With some 45 miles of coastline on the island, but just under 3 miles of public beach access, Spargur Loop resident Johanna Vanderlee said she was “mystified as to why the city would want to sell the park.”

But commission members say T’Chookwap’s sale could help buy other properties for public, open space use. They also said the recently purchased Spargur property, a stone’s throw away from T’Chookwap, has more potential for recreation and water access.

The city created T’Chook­wap after purchasing the property from Priscilla Lavry in 1992 for $257,000, with a contribution of $137,000 from the Seattle Yacht Club.

A citizens committee considered various uses, including a bench, a covered picnic area, stairs to the beach and an over-water platform. But lacking sufficient funds, the plan failed to go forward and the park received little attention beyond an occasional mow for about seven years.

In 1999, some neighbors complained about a 12-foot wide shelter built by Boy Scouts. City officials agreed that the shelter had overstepped its permit, and it was moved. After more complaints from neighbors, the park district even took down the T’Chookwap Park sign.

Additional hearings exposed ongoing conflicts between advocates for public access and neighbors who disliked having the park in their back yards.

Some nearby residents would still like to see the park go, saying the desire to preserve T’Chookwap is self-serving and short-sighted.

“These people will beg, borrow and steal for public lands,” said John Witlow on Wednesday. “This park has been a headache for quite some time.”

In his eight years living near the park, Witlow said he has never seen anyone there.

“They’re after public access at all costs,” he said. “As a neighbor, it makes the most sense to sell to a private entity.”

The likely buyer would be the yacht club, which has expressed a desire to use the property as part of its planned expansion. Club commodore Chris Otorowski tried to dispel neighborhood concerns that the growing club would reach a scale unfavorable to nearby residents.

“The Seattle Yacht Club has been a good neighbor since acquiring property 60 years ago,” he said. “There’s no real interest with a huge expansion.”

But Lavry, who sold the property to the city, strongly opposes the sale of the park, especially to the SYC.

“This (sale) furthers the interest of the monied land owners in Port Madison who would privatize this area more and more each year,” she said. “This is abuse of power, and I see it still continues.”

The council postponed taking action on the park, and asked the Open Space Commission to provide a forum restating why they recommended the park’s sale. A date for the forum has not yet been set.

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