Sammamish City Council poised to OK Big Rock Park plan

June 20, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: June 20, 1:13 p.m.

The Sammamish City Council looks likely to approve a plan to develop the 51-acre Big Rock Park, but not without some elements of the plan and its overall cost drawing criticism.
Parks Director Jessi Bon presented the draft of an eight-phase construction plan June 10 at a joint meeting of the City Council and Parks Commission. Building the entire plan would cost $4.1 million (in 2014 dollars) and $386,000 in annual maintenance, Bon said.
The master plan for the park started in 2012, a few years after Mary Piggott committed to donating the land north of Pine Lake to the city.
Piggott stipulated the park be for passive uses – generally meaning no ballfields – and the plan honors that requirement.
The element drawing the sharpest criticism was a plan for elevated walkways in some parts of the park. These boardwalks could be up to 15 feet off the ground, although they likely would be lower.
The council discussed the walkways in March, and some were lukewarm on the idea.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she was concerned about the roughly $500,000 price tag for constructing them. She was further worried about the environmental impacts of building the walkways in environmentally sensitive areas.
She said the construction costs, coupled with long-term maintenance costs, make the item untenable, even on a wish list.
“We are creating monsters of expectations,” she said. “We are planning irresponsibly.”

When will it be open?

The portion of Big Rock Park owned by the city of Sammamish is technically open to the public, although it’s not yet developed.
If the plan is approved June 17, design and construction of the park’s first phase would begin next year. If approved as part of the budget, it would cost an estimated $527,000 for the first phase, which would include parking along Southeast Eighth Street, a play area, a park entrance and plaza, and work on the trail system, among other things.
Parks Director Jessi Bon said if everything goes according to plan, she could bring a contract to hire a design consultant to the City Council in September.
Some of the work, largely the design phase, would begin this year, and the bulk would be completed next year.
There are no plans for when the second phase may begin.

Councilman Ramiro Valderrama agreed the cost for the walkways was too high. He suggested they might be more palatable if the city could find an outside funding source for construction and maintenance.
Others disagreed.
“I am just thrilled that the elevated walkway is back,” said Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay.
She noted the walkways could provide educational opportunities for parents and teachers.
Councilman Robert Keller noted that putting the walkways in the plan does not mean the city is obliged to build them. He further noted that funding for the project will only occur through the budget process.
“We do have another decision point,” he said.
Whitten argued that decision would not be in context. She said the council should be presented with all of the other park plans in the city, including both construction costs and the ongoing maintenance costs that would develop after something is built.
“Put it into perspective,” she said.
Another sticking point had been the size of a proposed parking lot on land known as parcel B. The city does not yet own the chunk of land, located on the southern portion of the park.
The lot, with a proposal 10-12 spots, would serve the Reard House (see sidebar) and a possible community garden, in addition to general-purpose parking. Bon suggested increasing that number to 16-20 spots.
Whitten and Valderrama pounced on the idea. They said the city had already committed to nearby neighbors that any lot on the site would be small.
Nearby residents had opposed a lot even smaller than the 10-12 spaces proposed, Valderrama noted.
“I really feel we made a commitment to the neighbors,” Whitten said.
It is unclear if the larger or smaller lot will be included in the final draft, slated to be voted on June 17 by the City Council.

The plan
The plan is designed to be phased in over time. Although it’s split into eight phases, not all would need to be built.
Site A, which the city already owns, encompasses about 16 acres south of Southeast Eighth Street and east of 218th Avenue Southeast. The plan there calls for putting in 30-40 parking spots along Southeast Eighth. It would also put in a two-lane road to access a house on the property, but Bon noted the road would not need to be built until the city starts using the house.
The house itself would require some renovations to make it usable for city purposes, and even more renovations to give it a large enough space to be attractive for gatherings.
There would be a small parking lot near the house, and a larger open area that could be used for overflow parking.
The plan calls for a “gathering circle,” where Bon suggested groups might be able to congregate for environmental education lessons.
The circle will also include a fire pit, but Bon said that pit would be locked and only opened to people who made a reservation.
The plan also uses much of the extensive trail system that already stretches across the park. The city, however, would have to move some trails. Bon noted some of the trails are right on the property line, which is not something designers like to do for public parks.
There is also an existing barn on Site A, which the city is currently using for maintenance and storage. Bon said any future restrooms would be located in the barn.
The plan also calls for some places to have observation decks and picnic areas.
The city doesn’t yet own the 20.6-acre Site B, but is making plans for it. The northwest corner of Site B touches the southeast corner of Site A, so a connection between the two areas is challenging and would need to be dealt with somehow.
The hope is to have parking for a handful of cars at what is now a city-owned detention pond, located in the Lancaster Ridge subdivision at the end of 221st Avenue Southeast.
Additional access will come off 220th Avenue Southeast, in the southwest portion of the park, where the council debated the size of the parking lot.
The site would have a bird blind – an area where people can see birds without themselves being seen – an open meadow and a picnic shelter.
Bon said she does not plan to allow people to reserve the shelter, in order to keep large gatherings from happening there.
There are existing buildings at Site B; some would be re-purposed for public use, such as turning them into restrooms. Others have an unclear fate.

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