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Divided council hands off north-end park

The mayor casts a tie-breaking vote as T’Chookwap goes to the park district.

The park will remain a park.

What you’ll be able to do there, that’s an open question.

A sharply divided City Council voted Wednesday to turn over T’Chookwap Park to the park district, as neighbors united to call for use restrictions on the tiny parcel overlooking Hidden Cove.

The council deadlocked 3-3 on the transfer with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy casting a rare deciding vote, ending the parcel’s turbulent 13-year run under city stewardship.

“We’re one community, and the park district and the city work closely together,” Kordonowy said. “It’s not as though we’re trading the park to somebody else’s jurisdiction. It’s all within our own boundaries of who we are as a community.”

It marked only the latest turn for a park mired in controversy since it was purchased by the city to settle a road-end dispute with the neighboring Seattle Yacht Club in 1993.

The park has never been improved, its lone amenity being a bench at the edge of the bluff. Construction of a gazebo several years ago was halted after complaints by neighbors.

The city Open Space Commission recommended that the park be sold, after the city purchased the larger Spargur Park with water access around the corner. The Seattle Yacht Club, which maintains an outstation next door, had expressed interest in the T’Chookwap land for its own purposes.

But council members generally shied away from taking a waterfront park out of the public fold.

Meanwhile, Spargur Loop neighbors, who in the past have been divided over the park’s use, came to the council united with a list of eight “conditions” under which they would endorse transfer to the park district.

Neighbors said they would support only “minimal amenities,” including benches, a picnic table and a garbage can there, and would oppose construction of any parking spaces including those for handicap access.

Neighbors also opposed construction of stairs or other water access, saying the city should look at cumulative impacts of such development on the shoreline. Water access at the nearby Spargur Park is sufficient for the public, they said.

Several praised the neighborhood for coming together after years of acrimony over the park’s use.

“Something really remarkable has happened here that speaks not just to our neighborhood, but to the community,” said Hilary Franz, a Spargur Loop resident.

But several council members said the city had no business encumbering the park district, the park’s next steward, with restrictions on the property’s use.

Several, including Councilman Kjell Stoknes, seemed to bristle at the conditions suggested by the neighbors.

“I hope the neighborhood recognizes that it is public land, and that those of us who go there are hopefully not a threat to you,” he said. “We really are all neighbors on this island, and I doubt anyone off-island would go there.”

Councilman Bob Scales noted that under the city’s control the park had never functioned as such, lacking even a sign denoting public access. He, too, looked askance at restrictions proposed by neighbors.

“This is a city park,” Scales said. “It’s not a private park and it’s not a neighborhood park. It was paid for with city dollars, and it should be available to all city residents.”

Stoknes, Scales and Debbie Vancil voted against the transfer, with Vancil saying the council needs clearer standards for land transfers and sales.

Chris Snow joined Jim Llewellyn and Bill Knobloch in supporting the move, while Nezam Tooloee abstained. That left the mayor with the deciding vote.

The property transfer puts the park’s future in the hands of the park district, which over the years has already participated in two roundtables for the park’s design.

At their regular meeting Thursday, park commissioners discussed the property briefly and also took issue with “conditions” suggested by the neighbors.

Commissioner Dave Shorett said the notion of a “passive” park needed to be more clearly defined, suggesting that it could be too restrictive even for children’s play.

“If my grandchildren want to go down there and toss a football around, is that a violation of a ‘passive’ park?” Shorett asked. “I think it is.”

Commissioner Ken DeWitt said that while stairs to the shoreline might not be desirable now, a future park board – and future neighbors – might want to see one constructed.

He also took issue with the idea the park should not include parking spaces or handicap access.

“You can’t expect someone in a wheelchair or on crutches to walk a quarter-mile or half-mile to the park,” DeWitt said.

The park board is expected to formalize acceptance of the park at its next meeting.

More public meetings to discuss amenities there are also expected.

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