Madison Park as cul-de-sac
Commentary by Bryan Tagas
You'd probably have to live in Madison Park for a few years to truly appreciate the quiet, steady rhythm of life down here at the end of the road. We sit conveniently removed from much of the wear and tear of typical urban living, having little serious criminal activity in the neighborhood and not much in the way of social discontent. Our socio-economic circumstance and relative isolation make us, perhaps, a bit more insular than other Seattle neighborhoods. We're hardly likely, for example, to follow the lead of those Capital Hill anti-Big Bank protesters who last week threw bricks through the windows of their local Chase Bank branch. And, as longtime resident Ed Clark puts it, it would be surprising to see Madison Park generate a big turnout for a meeting to discuss something really serious, like homelessness. But we are able to get 100 people to a hearing across town to discuss the removal of a neighborhood fence.
|The Commissioners meet|
It was standing room only last Thursday evening when the Park Commissioners convened in Denny Park to consider the staff proposal to take down the fence at the "Madison Park North Beach." Let's cut to the news first: the Commissioners will not be making a recommendation to the Parks Superintendent at least until they discuss the matter at their December meeting. And while it's true that the staff recommendation to remove the fence was pretty definitive, Acting Parks Superintendent, Christopher Williams, told those assembled, "We don't have a decision made. We are looking to hear creative solutions."
The Commissioners then got an earful from what was mostly an audience composed of Madison Parkers opposed to fence removal, though not everyone from the neighborhood spoke against the proposition. In addition to Mr. Clark, who said he felt the "safety" issue was being overblown, there were two or three other residents who spoke in favor of fence removal. Everyone else was either opposed to the idea, opposed to the process used by the Parks Department, or both.
|David Graves, Senior Project Planner, presents his recommendation|
For most in attendance, the principal issue was the safety of children and others using the park. It was noted that the fence was installed for what was originally considered to be a good purpose: protecting kids playing near the water. Not only is the rip-rap dangerous, many argued, but the water is treacherous at that point as well. Some were a bit heavy handed in their commentary, one claiming the the Commissioners themselves would be personally liable for any injuries or deaths resulting from their decision. Others focused on the change in usage of the park that would result from the fence removal. Without the protection of the fence, for example, little kids will probably no longer be able to use the field for soccer practice.
|Sam Smith makes his point|
One of the most cogent non-safety arguments made by those testifying concerned the fact that there's already significant public access to the water in Madison Park. This park at E. Lynn St. provides a different kind of recreational opportunity and different potential uses from what is available at the other public spaces in the neighborhood. It is more of a "passive" park, as opposed to "active" Madison Park and its beach just down the road. Removing the fence at the Swingset Park just to get direct access to Lake Washington accomplishes no worthwhile purpose, they maintained. No one will want to swim there (especially if aware of the 48" sewer overflow pipe at that location), and launching kayaks from the rip rap (and later getting them out of the water) would be problematic at best.
It had been rumored that the guy behind the whole fence-removal idea, Patrick Doherty, is an avid kayaker intent on using the park for that purpose. But when he spoke at the hearing about "access" at the park, he said his concern was primarily about the "visual access" to the Lake that the fence and its overgrown blackberry bushes were impeding. He said he'd like to see the Lake become "perceptually accessible" at that site. Many agreed with him about the blight caused by the overgrown fence, asking that the Parks Department simply remove the vegetation or do both that and replace the existing fence with a less-imposing one.
Parking and traffic congestion were also introduced as concerns, with one resident noting the potential negative impact on area property values if the "North Beach" is opened to additional public uses. A political note was made by another resident who reminded the Commissioners that Madison Parkers vote and that when the next bond levy occurs, "the Parks Department is going to need all the friends it can get."
When the session ended after about two hours it could not be said that the views of Madison Park, or at least of those neighborhood residents who cared enough to give them, had not been heard. The impact of all this may be evident in December when the Board of Parks Commissioners meets again to debate the issue. In the meantime, those who still wish to give their input may do so through December 2 (details here).
All in all, in my opinion, Madison Parkers presented themselves before the Commissioners as an articulate and concerned citizenry, legitimately upset about a process that began with a staff recommendation rather than through a dialog with the neighborhood. The legitimate concerns about safety, parking, congestion, and appropriate park usage were perhaps more persuasive when raised by people who did not have personal property interests as their principal motivation.
More than one resident stated that the neighborhood understands that this park belongs to the City and not to the neighborhood. But there was also a clear pattern of NIMBYism under the surface of much of the testimony, a perhaps inevitable reaction to the fear that more of the madding crowd will be coming down here to enjoy the public spaces in our midst.
But if "access" really just means the removal of visual blight, it seems that a reasonable compromise could easily be worked out, assuming that the Department of Parks and Recreation has any funds with which to implement it. Here's the recipe: Remove the vegetation and build a lower fence, keep the park for its current uses, save the children.
[Hearing photos from SeattleChannel.org. The complete videos of the hearing are available here.]