Sammamish City Council rejects proposed names for Southeast Eighth Street Park

March 2, 2013

By Caleb Heeringa

New: March 2, 11:16 a.m.

The Sammamish City Council gave it’s blessing to the first set of improvements to the city’s newest park, though several councilmembers continue to question the scope of long-term plans for the property.

Southeast Eighth Street Park, which is being donated by local resident Mary Pigott piece-by-piece to the city over the next decade or so, will receive 40 roadside parking stalls, improved trails and new restrooms as part of the plan. The city hopes to begin designs this summer with construction likely following in 2014.

The $457,000 project focuses only on “Site A” – the only parcel currently open to the public, just south of Southeast Eighth Street. Councilmembers were generally supportive of the improvements, but several had qualms about longer-term goals and the $3.9 million total price tag in the park’s master plan. That’s a common refrain from several on the council, who have raised red flags about similar long-term plans at Sammamish Landing and Beaver Lake Park.

“The problem with our master plans is that I think we overplan financially from a cost standpoint,” Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said. “It’s too much to accept a $3.9 million plan for a park that was supposed to be passive.”

The broader plan calls for the 51-acre property to serve as something of a nature-themed educational experience, with elevated walkways bringing users through wetlands and the tree canopy and an “educational circle” allowing student groups to come and learn. The park also contains several buildings, including a newer home on the north property that could be used as some sort of senior activity center and several older buildings on the southern parcel that could host heritage-themed events, including the recently moved Reard House.

Parks Director Jessi Bon and City Manager Ben Yazici repeated a common refrain: that master plans reflect broad goals that could take 20 or 30 years to accomplish as money becomes available.

The city adopted the master plan process for its parks shortly after the city incorporated to make sure any parks improvements were being coordinated with the future in mind rather than in a haphazard fashion, Yazici said.

Councilman Don Gerend said he the long-term vision of the plan reflects Pigott’s request for how the property be used. He noted that the city had already trimmed down its initial designs for the land, which included a community orchard and small outdoor amphitheater.

“I am comfortable with this design,” Gerend said. “The citizens have been asking what vision we have for (the park.) The first vision felt too intensive so we modified it and scaled it down.”

The question of what to do with the buildings on the property continued to give several councilmembers pause. Initial attempts to turn the Reard House and nearby Tanner House into heritage-themed event halls that could be rented met fierce opposition from neighbors just north of Southeast 20th Street, who complained that the resulting traffic would ruin the residential character of their cul-de-sac filled neighborhood.

The result leaves the buildings in a bit of a limbo – the Sammamish Heritage Society continues to use grant money to repair the outside of the home, but there are no immediate plans for what to do with it once it is restored. The master plan does call for 10 parking spots to be added near the home – considered a bare minimum for access to the southern parcel. The property contains other outbuildings that could be torn down as a part of development.

Whitten said it makes no sense to agree to a long-term plan for the property that leaves out crucial details about what to do with the buildings.

“Instead of ducking the issue I think we need to take a position as part of the master plan,” she said.

Bon said the city is in a unique position in that it doesn’t currently own the property in question. The south parcel is due to be donated to the city in the next three to five years.

“We don’t own this property,” Bon said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to plan to tear down structures we don’t even own yet. When the property is transferred we’ll have that discussion.”

Whitten also took issue with the plan to install “waterless restrooms” similar to one that was recently installed in Evans Creek Preserve. The restrooms are essentially pit toilets, and thus don’t require a sewer connection, but use solar-powered ventilation to cut down on odors and remove the moisture from human waste.

“I’m tired, as a woman, of having to use second-class bathrooms,” Whitten said. “It’s an unpleasant experience to go into a waterless bathroom. It may be more appropriate at Evans Creek Preserve that’s out in the county but this is in the middle of the heart of the city.”

Gerend countered that the city hopes to eventually connect the park to Lower Commons, which has nicer bathrooms available.

The council approved moving forward with the first phase of park development on a 4-3 vote, with Whitten, Mayor Tom Odell and Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama opposed.

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