John Nelson to get his park

When he passed away, Bainbridge Island resident John Nelson left the city with his pride and joy: his land. He dreamt of the five-acre parcel – now adjacent to the new Vineyard Lane buildings – being used for the good of all islanders. The only thing he required in exchange for the land was that the city would convert it to a park bearing his name.

That was 60 years ago.

It sat dormant for 55 of those years, as the city used it primarily as a public works maintenance yard. And in 2005, enamored with the possibility of gaining a waterfront park property at the old Strawberry Plant at the west end of Eagle Harbor, the city acquired the Strawberry property, owned by Island Senior Community LLC (ISC), in a trade for the Nelson land.

It went undeveloped for an additional five years while another nearby project, Vineyard Lane, was completed.

Last September, ISC formally applied for a short plat on Nelson’s old land off State Route 305.

Andrew Lonseth, a principal on the project, said the goal is to develop a senior center – for both independent and assisted-living residents – on the site, with 0.8 to one acre being set aside for a park to honor Nelson.

Part of the exchange agreement of the two properties required that a portion of the land be set aside for a park.

Though the project remains in its early stages ­– the developers’ application in September was only to subdivide the property – concern from some members of the community has already surfaced.

The city has received a number of emails from citizens who believe the city and the developers don’t plan to dedicate a park on the land.

In recent weeks, some people have begun comparing the John Nelson Park development to Island Gateway and Strawberry Plant, with allegations that the sites were not developed with the best interests of the community in mind.

Island resident Rod Stevens expressed, in an email to a number of citizens and government officials, his displeasure with the project thus far.

“The short plat application for this site does not even include a reference to the park,” he wrote in the email. “The planning department says it is now discussing the park requirement, but how could the developer have gone through a pre-application meeting with the planning department, reviewed the proposal with all of the various government authorities and made an application without showing a park, even after signing an exchange agreement that give them possession in the first place?”

The developers said the intention to dedicate a park was there throughout the process. Lonseth said the park wouldn’t show up on design plans until later in the process, when the site plan is presented to the city.

“We entered into an agreement with the city and the parks district, and we’ll absolutely honor that agreement,” Lonseth said. “The reason people are getting interested is because people think we’re developing the site, and people think we’re going ahead without a park, and that just isn’t true.”

The city also maintained that a park will have to be built on the property.

“Again, as stated in the agreement, the city will not approve a site plan without the dedication of the park area,” Planning Director Kathy Cook wrote in an email to the city manager obtained through a records request.

Lonseth said the developers haven’t found an owner/operator for the facility. Until then, they can’t do any design or planning of the project. Lonseth hopes that within a year the developers will find a buyer and the design and development processes can begin.

Representatives of the Metropolitan Park and Recreation District, city and ISC said they have met to talk about where the park will be, and when it will be structured into the plans for the project.

“Once we know where the property is, we can have a dialogue with the city and the community about what we all want there,” said Perry Barrett, senior planner with the parks district.

Since Nelson bequeathed the land to the city it has remained mostly vacant. It has functioned as a public works yard, but the city never got around to developing the park.

“I honestly don’t know why it hasn’t been dealt with earlier,” Cook said.

Lonseth said the area remained untouched because of its location and the limited vehicle access in and out.

“The problem with this property here is it’s on a right-in, right-out, one-way road,” Lonseth said. “It dead ends in here. It becomes a haven for bad activity rather than a useful park,” he said.

Despite the area’s vacant history, and difficulties, all sides remain adamant that they will honor the agreement to build a park for Nelson. The city will enforce the exchange agreement through its processes while the discussions over where and what the park will be continue, Cook said.

“We are the agency that has the tools to get the dedication through our permit process,” she said.

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