Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Astroturf is not the Answer

The view across the softball outfield at Newport Hills Park

So here's the source of my 4th of July "blog block" which I define as a loss of heart and sense of joy in blogging about our community. It all started in June with this flyer in my mailbox from the City Parks Department:

"Join us as we share sportsfield improvements plans for Newport Hills Community Park as part of the voter approved Parks levy."

A chance, it seemed to learn about and weigh in on the city's proposed 1.8 million dollar installation of synthetic turf at Newport Hills Park

At the Newport Hills Swim and Tennis Club two Bellevue Parks officials and a synthetic turf/landscape designer from DA Hogan Assoc. addressed a rather sparse audience of community members--the majority of which live adjacent to Newport Hills park--and present their version of what soon became clear was a done deal.

When public money becomes available for a neighborhood park, wouldn't you think that the neighborhood would have a say in how it's spent? But the only option given was: here's the parks levy--vote for it or against it and in any case we're not giving you an opportunity to make suggestions for alternative improvements.

It turns out you can't do any of this stuff on synthetic turf.

That's the first thing I noticed on the invitation from the City: the words "synthetic turf" were nowhere to be seen. The thing is that the City, with 1.8 million dollars in their pocket to spend on Newport Hills park improvements, chose to spend it on the installation of synthetic turf. This was presented as a "done deal" because the City has no other options for siting a community soccer field in existing neighborhoods. Guess why not. People don't want them in their neighborhood.

Another thing about the invitation/flyer: the word "community" doesn't mean what you might think. Seems innocuous, but the important words here are Community Park. Not a neighborhood park but a community park. By anyone's definition, this is a neighborhood park. It's our only green space where a family can picnic, throw balls for the dog, play frisbee, fly kites and enjoy our annual fourth of July bbq. This has grown over the years to be an important way for the community to re-connect, with a parade, performances by local artists and athletes and it's a whole lot of fun. (See my earlier post Blog Block 1)
A community park, on the other hand, serves the needs of the entire community at large; in this case, the eastside soccer community.

This park is tiny at 7.82 acres. It's not the behemoth that Robinswood is, yet that is the very park that the City officials kept comparing it to. It's just big enough for a kids sportfield, softball field and a well-loved, very busy little playground with four swings and a climbing structure. Were the neighborhood allowed to vote, my guess would be they'd like to see a bigger playground.

So what's not to like about improvements? Except that this is how it was presented: astroturf or nothin'. No alternatives, no public process.

I wasn't aware this new status upgrade (from a neighborhood to a community park--they've actually changed the name on the City website) and astroturf was something we had requested, but it was voted on by Bellevue and approved by a 67% margin, along with a number of other city-wide park improvements, some of which I'll list here. The whole thing feels very "top down" to me.

Newport Hills Park improvements--synthetic turf in dark green--price tag: $1.8 million

At Surrey Downs and Eastgate neighborhoods, when this levy was approved, expansions at Surrey Downs include open lawns, picnic spots and a skateboarding area. The park will be gorgeous and the process will take about 18 months. For a peak, look
hereA community center is also planned.

Over at Eastgate, an off-leash dog area, picnic facilities and trails will be on offer in addition to the possibility of lighted sportsfields and an indoor recreation building. The City purchased properties from the Boeing Co and the BSD, which is interesting because when a resident suggested that the City purchase a lot available across the street he was told that The City isn't in the business of land acquisition:

However, the City states on its own website:
"The Eastgate Area Properties are made up of three parcels consisting of 27.5 acres, strategically located largely in the I-90 Business Park, near the Lake to Lake Trail and major transportation corridors. This is the only remaining undeveloped site in Bellevue large and flat enough to be developed into a park with lit, active recreation.

The smallest (2.47 acres) of the three parcels is a storm water management pond operated by the Bellevue Utilities Department.
The 10.53-acre parcel was purchased from the Bellevue School District in 2004 and is an undeveloped, sloped woodland, surrounded on two sides by single family homes.
The largest of the three parcels was purchased in 2003 with the intent of developing active sports facilities and is a relatively flat, 14.55 acre open space that was operated as a municipal landfill from 1951 to 1964 and an airfield until 1983." (From City of Bellevue website)

The "vision" for a new waterfront park "comes into focus" at Meydenbauer Bay according to the same source:

"over the past two years, the city has been working with a citizen steering committee to develop a plan not only for the creation of a new park, but also for the addition of walkways and terraces linking the neighborhood and the park. Over the last 15 years, the city has acquired 12 properties in the area, totaling nearly 10 acres."

Hmmmm. Now I realize that the fact that the shoreline is involved triggers the EIS process, but still. Where were our choices? Where was our planning process?When did Newport Hills' only park become a community sportsfield? Here's the answer: no other neighborhood will allow new lighting to be installed. Since our park has lighting already, this is a choice location for improvements. The lights flood the surrounding neighbors with a the brightness of day until well past most children's bedtimes. They've been tolerant because it's just in the summertime. Now it will be year-round. And the only community truly served by these improvements will be the eastside soccer community.

Understandably, the meeting was heated. After all, Newport Hills is practically dying on the vine and all the City can offer for their $1.8 mil is some phoney grass and a guarantee of late bedtimes for the neighborhood kids who can't get to sleep because of the year-round usage of the park til 10:30 at night, fully lit and noisy.

When will the City Parks Department involve neighbors in a meaningful way? When will the Park Department talk to the Bellevue City Manager and Neighborhood Planner as well as the Economic Development Director and/or Bellevue School District, not to mention retail property owners sitting on empty buildings to come up with a plan for Newport Hills' survival? Astroturf is not the answer.


Anonymous said...

I think you make some great points here, and ones that I had never thought of. That is a shame that there wasn't more neighborhood input. I can think of a lot better things to spend 1.8 million on in the park than rubber turf as well.

RobinB said...

I just want to urge everyone with an opinion to contact the Bellevue City Council at: