Seattle taxpayers question $3 million price tag for tiny park

SEATTLE -- Locals wonder: Are Seattle taxpayers getting their money's worth in a new park? They're wondering because the nearly $3 million park will be just 29 feet wide.

It's part of KOMO's occasional series -- "What a Waste" -- examining how the government is spending your money. In this case, the city plans to convert two blocks of a parking median into a sidewalk park.

"I like green, I think is green is good," one resident said. No question -- Seattlites love their parks.

"I think parks and green space are a good thing," another resident said.

They vote again and again for park taxes. But a proposed park in East Ballard is testing that love affair.

"I think it's a waste of taxpayers' money," a resident said.

The proposed new park would be on two blocks of 14th Avenue Northwest, which is an arterial with a parking strip currently running down the middle. The city would divert two-way traffic to one side and on the other build a 13-foot wide rain garden to handle storm water runoff and then a 29-foot-wide park.

"We know it's not a very large park," said East Ballard Community Association's Dawn Hemminger. "It's going to be more of a respite, more of a nice place to meet friends and family."

The $2.9 million for the project comes from a city-wide parks levy voters approved five years ago.

This park would be in what the city calls a "gap" area in East Ballard, where there isn't enough green space for the population, according to Parks Spokeswoman Dewey Potter.

"That part of Ballard has been deficient in open space and neighborhood parks for a very long time," Potter said.

However, three blocks west from the proposed park is Ballard Corners -- a new park built off a quiet side street. And six blocks to the southeast, Gilman Park has ballfields, play structures, picnic tables and a wading pool the city hasn't had the money to open in years.

Gilman Park users aren't wild about spending $3 million on another park so close by.

"If it's within walking distance I don't know why they would bother putting another one in," said park user Percy Dawson.

But the 14th Ave Park supporters argue Gilman Park is on the other side of busy Market Street, and the neighborhood has a growing population.

"There are a lot of people in this neighborhood who live in apartments, who live in town homes, who don't have a lawn, who don't have a garden space of their own," Hemminger said.

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers wanted to find out just how wide a 29-foot park would be. So we went to the Ballard Corners Park and used an appraiser's wheel to mark out how much park would fill a 29-foot strip. The proposed park isn't even wide enough to hold a small play structure like the type that's in the Ballard Corners Park.

The size troubles some residents, like Sue Reed.

"I guess I'm not sure in that little strip there what are they going to do there? What's that about? How's that going to be used?" Reed said.

And park opponents also worry about losing 89 parking spots. They wonder if the small park is worth the cost.

"I really doubt that most of the taxpayers when they voted for this levy fund envisioned a 29 foot park with a water garden - for three million dollars," said park opponent Tom Ormbrek.

For comparison, we looked at two other small parks. The city had to buy the property for the Ballard Corners park, and it still cost just $3.2 million to develop.

The new Bell Street Park is similar to the layout for 14th Ave NW Park, converting half the publicly-owned street to a park; it will cost $3.3 million. But it's twice the size as the proposed 14th Ave project, developing four blocks of park instead of two.

"We're getting the property in this case for free so the development costs make sense," Hemminger said.

We asked if it will be worth the $3 million dollar pricetag.

"You know it will," she said.

But park opponent Judy Day isn't so certain.

"They could probably buy a house, tear it down and put in a park for less than they're spending on this - and it's a poor location," she said.

With final approval still some months away, both sides hope taxpayers' money is wisely spent. As resident Deanna Martin puts it, "three million dollars is three million dollars - it's a lot of money."

A Citizen Oversight Committee has already approved the 14th Avenue NW Park, but it's still up to the full Seattle City Council for final approval.