Big Rock Park plan approved
July 16, 2014
By Ari Cetron
New: July 16, 1:19 p.m.
Big Rock Park might be getting some elevated walkways, but that will likely be for another City Council to decide.
The council unanimously approved a master plan for the park July 8. Most of the park’s amenities were uncontroversial, and went through without any discussion. However, councilmembers voted on four specific parts of the park plan individually. Mayor Tom Vance conducted the votes in a way that limited opportunities for councilmembers to make amendments (see sidebar), though some did happen.
Big Rock park will eventually be 51 acres generally north of Pine Lake. Mary Piggott, owner of the property, donated it to the city with the understanding that it would be used as a passive park – meaning no organized ballfields.
One chunk of the park, known As parcel A is already the city’s. Piggott will give the city parcel B at an unspecified time in the future. Parcel C includes Piggott’s home, where she intends to live for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the plan, and the part that generated the most discussion, was a call for elevated walkways. The elevated structures would reach a maximum of about 15 feet off the ground, though in other places it would be rather low.
Parks Director Jessi Bon explained that the walkways were not just put in to be an interesting feature. She said that they would also be able to have a shallow enough incline that it would allow for handicapped access to parts of the park that might otherwise be unreachable.
Additionally, Bon said it would allow access across a wetland, where building a surface trail would have negative environmental impacts.
“It’s helping us make a connection which would otherwise be very challenging,” Bon said.
City Councilmembers were skeptical of including the $565,000 project in the overall master plan. They praised the reasons for the walkways, but balked at the price tag.
Supporters of the walkways noted that the master plan does not obligate the city to spend money on the project, since that would happen through the budget process.
Including it would give a future council the option of building it, but they could always reject the spending.
Opponents were afraid of including it in the master plan, since they feared it might create an expectation that it would be built. They also noted that, in the future, there would be other ways to access the areas that would not require the walkways.
The first vote on the walkways removed them from the plan on a 5-2 vote, with Vance and Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay supporting them.
The council discussed the matter again during the amendment phase. That time, Councilman Robert Keller suggested a change which calls for evaulating the possibility of including walkways, or some other sort of handicapped access in the future.
That measure passed on a 4-3 vote. In favor were Vance, Huckabay, Keller and Councilman Don Gerend.
The council voted 4-3 to pull out a proposed community garden. The plan called for installing such a garden, on parcel B. The council generally liked the idea of having such a garden – one in the Sammamish Commons has been very popular – but noted it was the sort of thing the city could delay. They also noted it could help with the issue of traffic at that part of the park.
Gerend, along with Councilmembers Ramiro Valderrama, Nancy Whitten and Tom Odell voted to remove the garden.
The council voted 5-2 to keep a “natural” play area, a sort of playground but built without traditional playground equipment. Valderrama and Odell were opposed.
The council voted 6-1 to install a 10-12 stall parking lot on site B. Valderrama opposed it, noting he wanted a smaller lot.
The council has already budgeted $527,000 for the park. Design work is likely to begin this year on 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.
There are eight phases in the plan; however, most are not dependant on each other, and they may not necessarily be built in order, or according to the phasing schedule.
For details, including the plan, visit www.sammamish.us/departments/parksandrec/projects/BigRockPark.aspx.
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 groups might be able to congregate. The circle will also include a fire pit, but it will be locked and only opened to people who make 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, which are right on the property line.
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.
In an unusual move, Mayor Tom Vance refused to allow councilmembers to offer amendments on the four specific parts of the plan that the council discussed. Instead he called for the council to vote to either approve or reject each part. Then he came back to each one and asked if anyone wanted to offer amendments.
However, parliamentary procedure only allows those on the winning side of the first vote to offer an amendment the second time the issue came up. The plan didn’t seem to be pointed at closing off any particular councilmembers from discussion. In one case, it meant he was also prohibited from offering an amendment.
Vance also took an unprecedented (though permitted) step of limiting councilmember comments to two minutes each during their discussion. Typically, councilmembers are permitted to speak as long as they like. Vance said it was in the interest of time.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten pointed out that the limit could be overridden bt a majority vote of the council.
The limit ended up being unenforced.