Leave park to park district

Were the design charrettes that the city has been conducting during the last few months on the restoration of Strawberry Plant Park a waste of time? It appears so.

Since the beginning of the process earlier this year, the city’s Planning Department has claimed that the project is a joint venture with Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District. Through an agreement between the two agencies, the city, which owns the propoperty, would oversee restoration of the shoreline via a grant that was part of the Wyckoff plant settlement money, while the park district would do its thing on the upland five acres.

That was the official agreement, but in reality the city is making all of the park planning decisions and the park district is on the outside looking in. As a result, said park board chair Ken DeWitt, the board is drafting a letter to the city that will request an explanation as to why the city – contrary to the original agreement – is doing all of the park management at Strawberry.

For example, the city recently presented two alternatives for the new park that were basically identical to the ones city planners proposed before the recent design charrette was held with neighborhood residents and stakeholders offering suggestions. Plans involving the upper five acres, which DeWitt says should be the park district’s responsibility and not the city’s, continue to be essentially passive in the proposal with exception of a small play meadow that was part of the plan before the charrette was held.

Not one single item that people suggested be part of the revised park plan were included in the two options now offered by the city. Suggestions included picnic tables near the shoreline; leaving one jetty for a viewpoint of the water; and a nonmotorized boat launch pad so canoes and kayaks wouldn’t be pulled through the mud. It’s been the city’s stance for months that it was open to the public’s suggestions, but it now appears that was an illusion.

There has been some concern that the shoreline restoration and possibly the grant could be compromised if active upland uses are allowed. DeWitt said that’s questonable since restrictive conditions regarding the environment goes with the property and any variances would be contingent upon those limitations.

The park board feels the park district should be in the park business, not the city. And, in fact, the City Council believes the city shouldn’t be in the park business either. It would like to hand over many of its park properties – especially Waterfront and Strawberry Plant parks – to the district as soon as possible. And the prospects of that happening have been heightened since the park district recently received a vote of confidence and additional dollars with the public’s passage of the levy lid-lift.

DeWitt said the the district needs an agreement on the management of those two parks. The board has stated that it will not take over those two parks until the city completes the projects it is currently embarked upon there. The board doesn’t want anything to do with those parks unless the city has either finished the work or – at least at Strawberry Plant – is willing to hand over the responsibilities of remaking the upland property to the park district.

In other words, back to you, city.

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