Park board wants city to alter its Strawberry Plant Park design

Last week the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District Board of Commissioners voted to formally disapprove of the city’s plan for Strawberry Plant Park.

The board’s action was purely an advisory opinion, however, since it learned prior to the vote that it has no legal power over the progress of the park.

The commissioners chose to send a message to the city that they disagreed with some aspects of the shoreline restoration and were left out of some of the planning processes.

“I don’t believe they’ve acted in good faith to the citizens and this board,” said Commissioner Paul Bang-Knudsen. “This is not a mutually agreeable plan.”

The park board voiced several concerns about the property including the location of the overwater viewing structure, the landscaping and management of the shoreline property.

Libby Hudson, long-range planner for the city, said most of these issues can be negotiated before the project begins. Hudson said the city is planning to speak with the Elliot Bay Trustee Council, the primary grant funders, about whether some of the vegetation can be scaled back, so a greater view of the harbor opens up, and whether or not there is money to pay for long-term maintenance.

“We’re working to accommodate them on those concerns,” Hudson said.

Several board members took issue with the potential location of the overwater viewing structure. It is permitted to be on the west side of the property. Commissioners wanted to see the location moved to the east side, where it runs over a slimmer portion of the protected shoreline and has a better viewpoint.

Hudson said for its location to change, the park board would have to obtain its own permit for the structure.

The board’s action came after three hours of impassioned speeches for and against the project by several audience members, including Erik Lund, the nephew of John Nelson, who had stipulated in his will that his property be left to the city for the purpose of creating a public park. Lund told the board that the plans for the park didn’t mesh with the things he was told when he agreed to the land trade.

The two agencies had previously made a tentative agreement that the city would perform its shoreline improvement part of the project and then transfer the park to the district, which would then develop and maintain the upland portion as a park.

Some board members worried that the decision to formally disapprove of the design represents a metaphorical departure from the district’s agreement to engage in its portion of the project.

“In a way we’re just walking away from this as a future park,” said Commissioner Kirk Robinson, who voted against the motion, before the vote. “This becomes their park, and we’re walking away.”

Some commissioners said that even if the park board had supported the city’s plan, they were concerned that the city may never transfer the property to the district after the shoreline restoration is completed.

Board members cited recent events surrounding the planned transfer of the Fort Ward Parade Grounds property as having the potential to keep Strawberry Plant Park out of the hands of the district. The City Council recently halted the transfer process of the Fort Ward property to the district, balking because it took exception to the district’s request that there be no restrictions in the transfer. Mayor Bob Scales brought up the possibility of adding fees to the transfer process of any of its parks to the district, and later said the two agencies need to have a discussion about the issue.

Splitting the property complicated matters because neither side could take complete ownership of the project. And while the two goals of the project are not mutually exclusive, it continues to be a difficult chore to satisfy both sides.

“What we’re trying to do is take a single piece of property and accommodate two uses,” said board Chair Lee Cross, who, along with Robinson, voted against Thursday’s resolution. “It means there has to be some give on both sides.”

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