Thursday, December 8, 2011
This fence to be removed
Parks Board makes its recommendation
After serving for more than 60 years as a safety barrier (and, in the opinion of many, an eyesore), the chain-link fence at Swingset Park is about to become a thing of the past. That, at least, is the position of the Board of Park Commissioners, which this evening voted 4-0 (with one abstention) to recommend to the Superintendent of Parks & Recreation that the fence and its attendant blackberry bushes be removed. The Board also recommended that the Superintendent "confer" with the community concerning both the implementation of its recommendation and the creation of a vegetation-management plan for the park. It's the Board's intention that this interaction with the neighborhood occur prior the fence being taken down.
Theoretically, the Acting Superintendent, Christopher Williams, could reject the Board's recommendation. But this seems unlikely given that it was Mr. Williams' own department that initiated the proposal, developing the briefing paper which provided background and justification for the removal the fence. Williams, who attended the Board session, gave no indication that he would be doing anything other than carrying out the wishes of the citizen panel, stating that among the issues he may be discussing with people in the neighborhood are "volunteer stewardship activities" and "maintenance" of the park once the fence is removed. Several Board members acknowledged concerns about safety at the park, asking that the parks department explore such options as a low hedge to replace the fence and a more-limited fence to enclose the immediate area around the swingset.
The outcome, though not unexpected, appeared to be a disappointment to the 10 to 12 Madison Parkers who attended the Board session. It was clear from comments made by Board members that they felt the weight of the community's input and sought to justify both the Board's process and ultimate recommendation. After the Commissioners reached their decision, Board Chair Terry Holme told those assembled that the issue had been "a challenging one for the Board--and we take our challenges seriously." He noted that the Commissioners had read all of the input, had instituted a "rigorous" process of review, and had taken longer to reach a conclusion than was typical for such proposals. He noted that although the neighborhood's concerns were taken into consideration, the Board has a responsibility to serve the entire parks system and to consider each park as part of the whole. In this case, he said, he felt that the park was not meeting its full potential and will be a better park because of the recommended changes.
During the Board's discussion, it was noted that each of the Commissioners who were present had visited the park to see the situation firsthand (one Commissioner was absent from the meeting for medical reasons). Board Vice-Chair Diana Kincaid, who made the motion to remove the fence, stated that "public waterfront is incredibly valuable and precious" and suggested that there are other locations fairly immediate to the park where such activities as kids' soccer practice could take place. Another Commissioner, Jackie Ramels, stated that there are other parks in the system, including the one at Alki, where the drop off to the water is significantly greater than at this park, without the parks department feeling the need to have any barriers in place. In the end, the desire to ensure "waterfront access" won out, with only one Commissioner, John Barber, expressing reservations based on child safety (his was the one abstention).
[Swingset Park is located at E. Lynn Street and 43rd Avenue E.]