Opinion: A bold idea for Beacon Hill’s Central Park

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by Andrea Leuschke and Tim Abell

What if you could start from scratch and locate the Beacon Hill Central Park, the neighborhood’s focal point, anywhere on Beacon Hill—without disrupting existing businesses, without relocating current residents, without demolishing any of the many buildings of character on Beacon Hill? Ideally it would be located on Beacon Avenue, in the heart of the Urban Village, close to the transit station… and that is exactly what we are proposing.

The Parks and Green Space Levy Oversight Committee announced that there are funds available for the acquisition and development of park space. The intent of this project is to acquire the land surrounding the light rail station (see a map of the area here) to create an urban park in the heart of the North Beacon Hill Urban Village.

Neighbors enjoying a park's wading pool in the summer.
Our neighborhood has seen great changes in the past few years with the addition of a new library and the recent opening of the Beacon Hill light rail station. As both the adopted North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan (NBHNP) and the 2009 Draft Plan point out, the central area of our neighborhood is still missing public spaces that provide opportunities to play for young (play structure) and old (chess table), talk to friends and neighbors (benches, picnic tables), and for community gatherings (plaza). The adopted NBHNP points out that with the existing population North Beacon Hill does not even meet the minimum city standards for the ratio of open space to residents.

A park-like setting in the core will also help alleviate the lack of tree cover and vegetation. It would give residents and visitors a great opportunity to connect with nature, the environment, and the larger landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and for all to share the spectacular Beacon Hill views.

With community backing, this acquisition would most likely score highly due to the central location in our community, the consistency with the adopted plan, the coupling with the transit station, and the vacancy of the desired land. All these factors combine to make this an unique and creative opportunity.

Please comment on this blog about what you think and what you would like to see in the Beacon Hill Park. This proposal will be submitted to the North Beacon Hill Community Council for endorsement at the meeting on Thursday April 1, 2010. Please come out to express your support!!

Andrea Leuschke is a landscape architect who has worked on the Beacon Ridge Improvement Community (BRIC) stairway project. Tim Abell is a resident of Beacon Hill and an architect who designs and develops work force housing in Seattle.

(All images courtesy of Andrea and Tim. Click on each thumbnail image to see a larger version.)

30 thoughts on “Opinion: A bold idea for Beacon Hill’s Central Park”

  1. This sounds great!

    Some amenities I’d be happy to see:
    – a wading pool (in shade during the heat of the day)
    – a chess table and a Go table
    – an expanse of lawn large enough to set up a game of croquet

  2. I think these are great ideas that would be a perfect addition to the area surrounding the light rail station. Thanks for initiating this!

  3. I can’t imagine anything nicer than having a park at this location, but I would like to have more background on this program. This must be very valuable property, is buying property this expensive really an option with the city? What comparable properties has the city bought in the past?

  4. Andrea,

    When I first heard about the Opportunity Fund this is the first thing I thought of! We need to attract people to the urban village. Right now the library, Red Apple, and the light rail are the biggest draw. A Park would be another major draw. With more foot traffic will come more businesses. I see this as an amazing opportunity to create a centrally located green community nexus before the mixed-use condos come in and it is too late. Let me know what I can do to help!!

  5. As for design ideas. I think the best situation would be a mixture of green space and commercial/residential development. The light rail area is prime TOD territory so it will be tough to sell a large park in lieu of housing.

    I have seen many excellent examples in other cities of business that open onto green spaces. You know, sit and eat your cake while the kids happily play in the open space, ahhhh. To have a place like that so close to home would be amazing!

  6. A green space/park will only be successful if there are mixed uses surrounding it that bring people into the area throughout the day on foot. The idea in comment #5 sounds promising, because it would create not only the park, but the surrounding neighborhood vitality to support the park.

    A neighborhood park is RARELY an attraction in and of itself. There needs to be enough going on around the park to justify the park’s existence.

  7. Did you come forward and present this idea to your neighbors and the City during the Neighborhood Plan Update process? I don’t recall seeing it.

    The whole point of comprehensive planning is to work with all the “good ideas” out there and see which ones fit and which ones don’t, and where they fit best in the neighborhood. Too bad we couldn’t weigh your ideas during our plan update.

    As things stand now, the area around the Link light rail station is destined for mixed use development so we can have more people in the heart of our community supporting our local businesses, and more ground-floor space to house local businesses. As it is now, our business district can’t reach “critical mass” and begin to thrive until there’s more “there” there.

    Note we already have a “destination” park less than a mile south called Jefferson Park, and the City is spending a bundle expanding it over the old reservoir space.

  8. This is an appealing vision, but doesn’t the adopted North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan predate the huge expansion of Jefferson Park currently underway? When that work is done will Beacon Hill still not meet the green space minimum?

    The Light Rail station is located about midway between Jefferson Park and the playground at Beacon Hill school. Our family walks to make use of both of them already (well, Jefferson’s been inaccessible with construction, but that will end…). To seek a big addition of park land for North Beacon Hill now seems a bit disproportionate when you think about what applying that money to park acquisition and improvement for other neighborhoods in the Southeast District might do.

    On the other hand, extending the Light Rail plaza into the old Perry Ko’s lots to the south and encouraging day stall or cart commerce on them could bring some life to the business district, especially if the former residential lots to the east could again serve residential needs with mixed used development. The biggest problem holding the business district remains lack of density, especially during the day.

  9. Dylan, what El Centro has described as its projected development on the south end of its lot is multi-story mixed use with retail on the ground floor and a publicly accessible space in front. It would face on to the Lander Festival Street with Light Rail on the other side. It sounds exactly like what you describe in your comment.

  10. I’d rather see more goods and services around the LR station than a park. Anything to get people out of their cars and create some safe pedestrian traffic around the area would be welcome. And I’d love to keep my $$ in our neighborhood.

    We have a treasure in Jefferson Park which is less than one mile south of the LR station, if my calculations are correct. Have you walked around the west edge of JP and checked out the breathtaking view? Admittedly, I’m a mid-Beacon Hill resident and I’m partial to JP, but I’d love to see things that others have mentioned (pool, fountain, etc.) going in there instead of near the LR station.

  11. While I hate to sound anti-park, I can’t help but agree with Hiller and the others here who express concern that an additional park might be a bit redundant in light of the massive expansion to Jefferson Park and the reworking of the park near Beacon Hill school. Once those two project are complete, and when you take into account the numerous other existing parks on the hill, it seems to me that Beacon Hill’s need for green spaces will be more than met and that -instead- what our community really needs is more opportunities for housing and businesses surrounding the Light Rail Station.

    To put it another way, when I feel like taking my daughter to the park, I feel like I’ve got several options I can already walk to. But, when I need to run errands, I almost always have to drive to neighboring communities.

  12. First, thank you Andrea and Tim for the time and energy you’ve put toward the positive development of Beacon Hill.

    I agree with mand of the other comments. What we really need in order to create a thriving, sustainable community are more services and housing close to the LR station.

    That said, I do support the idea of creating more park and open spaces on the hill. We will need more green space, even once the awesome Jefferson Park is open. However, I don’t think that a park would be the best use of the resource that is the open space around the LR station.

  13. In principal I agree with this plan, and feel that the “core” of the urban village could benefit from another patch of park space. However, I would agree with several others on here that allowing the development of the property at the Station block is vital to the growth of the business district and converting that entire block to a park would be a detriment to the commercial growth in the neighborhood. I am only one person, but I would prefer the urban village to be a balance of commercial businesses, restaraunts, and open space and I think this particulary property is a case where the first two are more important than the third, but possibly a balance is possible. For example, maybe the northeast lot, adjacent to Lander, could be pulled out as a micro-park to tie into use of Lander. I would also suggest that Beacon frontage be left to businesses and use the laterals for open space, for no other reason than the noise of Beacon versus just a half block away.

    Ten years ago the City had a plan for open space near the Station (the one located at the current location, there were originally two stations), developed in conjunction with what is described as El Centro’s plan to develop a “Mercado”. Check this out, particularly the map presented on page 3.

    http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~ordpics/30165f.pdf

    This is from August 2000, approved more than a year after council approval of the original neighborhood plan. That document seems like a pretty good plan to incorporate public open space with El Centro’s use of the property and the recent work on Lander street. This also suggests that Jefferson Park has never been seen as a surrogate for open space in the core of the urban village, as has been suggested by some. In fact, if you review the original 1999 neighborhood plan, you’ll find a description of the proposed Park improvements at that time. Of course, El Centro now plans to develop a portion of the property shown as open space, but I think this grant program could be a useful tool to allow a significant chunk of truly public open space to be incorporated into El Centro’s development plan while providing them with some funds for construction.

    One big question that I don’t think has been addressed is how open the current Station lot property owners have been to selling to the city for conversion to a park. Have they been part of the discussion or is the plan to simply use imminent domain to force the sale? The other plan that was brought up during the NBHC meeting seems like a no brainer, since the property owner sounded on board with the idea.

    I appreciate you coming up with this plan and putting it out there for review and comment. I hope you and others who are willing to put significant effort into coming up with projects and writing grants and such are not discouraged by those who want to micro-manage the neighborhood plan, particularly when they speak under a cloak of anonymity. Good ideas don’t happen once every 10 years.

  14. Brook,

    I have heard that El Centro has a plaza idea for their development, but I have a feeling we will have very little say in what that finally looks like.

    The LR station is a logical location for a pocket park because 1. it is currently empty and available, 2. it is half way between the playfields and Jefferson, 3. despite what others have said in this thread, it will be a destination that will bring more foot traffic to the business area, 4. it will add green space to one of the greyest parts of the hill, 5. it will accelerate development of the ugly gravel lots around the LR station.

    I think everyone needs to remember that the opportunity fund is for park space (there is no ‘lets do something instead with this $’), if we don’t go after it some other neighborhood will get the $ and park. I don’t think anyone feels we have too much open space and that another park is not needed, it is just a matter of where to put it. For the reasons I listed above, I would argue that the LR station is the best location.

    Lastly, my take on this is that the lot should be majority business and housing with a small pocket park. If we stake our claim now, then the developers will have to build around the park and integrate the open space into their designs. Otherwise developers will be dictating what the area looks like and no doubt they will want to be maximizing rentable square footage at the cost of open space.

    For a great example of a new pocket park anyone interested should check out the park on 17th ave NW between NW 63rd and 62nd.

  15. 21 Years on Beacon Hill,

    Why does the fact that Andrea did not propose this idea sooner negate the fact that it is a valid option? The implication is that once the Neighborhood Plan is in place (not that it will be for at least another year) we can have no new innovative ideas that do not fit that framework. This opportunity did not present itself until recently, so lets debate it on it merits, not its timing.

  16. Dylan,

    It sounds to me like we both said we’d like to see part of the vacant property used for public space, and the rest for multi-story mixed use.

    But I don’t see why we’d have any more say in a development done by someone other than El Centro. There’s a ton of leverage to help shape what they would build fronting the Lander Festival Streer. I’ve been aware of El Centro’s mission and history since the mid-80’s and when I first moved to the Southeast District in the early 90’s El Centro one of the few good things going on down here. It baffles me that they’ve somehow become The Man in these neighborhood planning discussions. The worst they’ve done to us in ten years of being next door neighbors was a couple instances of late night tuba playing.

    Frankly, statements like “if we don’t go after it some other neighborhood will get the $ and park” make me think about how much more some other neighborhoods need park money than Beacon Hill does. For the good of the entire city’s social fabric I think we need to distribute money by need, and not just grease the squeaky wheels.

  17. Dylan,

    As a taxpayer, I’d be furious if the city wasted dollars on expensive and scarce commercial zoned area to build another park.

    As a neighbor, I’d be even more unhappy to see the available lots for restaurants and shops wasted.

    We already have proposals for both a pocket park at 17th and Walker, and a 12 acre farm at Jefferson.

    Lastly:
    The city strongly wants increase density in station areas, and is applying a cost benefit analysis to each park proposal. From either perspective, I suspect this proposal will go nowhere.

  18. Hi Brook,

    I think you missed my intent. Which is what always happens in this format :(

    I think El Centro is great and I am excited for them to develop their property. I was only saying that a park developed now near the LR station would be relatively fast-track and a sure thing in terms of open-space design.

    As for my other statement. There is 7 million out there for this fund. It will be spent on parks and open space whether we get the funding or not. We have a need and we live here, so I say we dream big! You can be rest assured that folks in much better-served communities are doing the same thing.

    Oh and one more thing this idea has going for it is a couple highly skilled Architects behind it. Nice rendering Andrea and Tim!

  19. Apologies to Joel and Chris, whose comments got (temporarily) eaten by our spam filter for reasons unknown. All the comments (as of now) should be appearing in this discussion now.

    (Oddly, it just spam-filtered this comment too. I don’t know why it is doing this.)

  20. Dylan, sorry for reading anything into your comments that wasn’t there. You might not have been saying it, but I’ve seen and heard plenty of bashing of El Centro and other non-profit service organizations in the Southeast District over the years and frankly it’s part of what has turned me off to what passes for neighborhood representation in Seattle.

    I’d much prefer elected positions to the self-appointed ones we have now, so that everyone in the neighborhood would have a chance at representation of their interests, regardless of time constraints, language barriers, persuasive speaking abilities, etc. That’s also one of the great values I see in having discussion online, although it’s clear that others think face time trumps everything.

  21. I can’t imagine anything more depressing than another one-block ‘park’ in Seattle surrounded by business-as-usual. These ‘parks’ are always maintenance headaches without being large enough to actually provide shade or relief from the noise and dust of the city.

    Think out-of-the-box, beginning with some pedestrian-dominated streets featuring street cafes and vendors, very wide sidewalks, and bikeways from which cars are totally banned.

    Put six neighborhood mini-parks on a string connected by pedestrian and bike paths, each mini-park well enough done to make it worth your while to get out of the house and walk to the park for lunch.

    In any case, putting a park around a transit station is a good way to reduce potential ridership, and attract the kind of activities that, once again, deter potential riders. Put the park at least two blocks from the transit station.

  22. Not that this relates 100% to this discussion, but KUOW’s Weekday show had an interesting episode recently where they talked about “Rethinking Our Alleys” and how to reclaim ignored urban (and suburban) spaces. Anyhow, during the show, I couldn’t help but think about some of the discussions I’ve read here.

    If you are interested, I beleive you can listen to it here:
    http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=19734

  23. #24 makes some great points. There’s been a consistent theme across many comment threads about encouraging more pedestrian activity–in BH generally, and around the station core area specifically. Dedicating a large parcel around the station to a park (even one as beautifully designed as this) will not help local businesses as much as building housing. We’re not going to see a vital pedestrian neighborhood without something/somewhere to go–retail, cafes, services, etc.

    Building more housing and creating more commercial space around the station supports the existing businesses and will encourage new businesses (including street vendors) to move in.

    The festival street, El Centro’s someday plaza and Triangle park are all within a very short walk from the light rail station. Thoughtful pedestrian (including bike & stroller) design will encourage people from out of the neighborhood to explore the neighborhood before/after their Jefferson Park adventures–and patronize local businesses along the way.

  24. what if the space could be a mixture of everything mentioned thus far on this thread and others…i don’t know how to create such lovely pictures and designs as have been created thus far by very talented individuals, but try to mentally picture this combination…

    Starting from the south end of the ‘alley’ that faces the library – a short tree lined walkway/entryway that enters into a public access internal courtyard/park of the mixed use buildings with another access point at Festival Plaza del Raza (St.). And maybe even another access point on the east side. In that courtyard/park could be more lovely greenery and a fountain/water feature of some sort which was ok to play in. There would be room for outdoor sitting, chess playing, dining, picnicing. Businesses on the bottom floors of the building could have access from both the street side and internal courtyard. Space for outdoor vendors inside the park and out on the street side.

    Could this internal ‘courtyard’ be called a park? so as to qualify for some of the funds from the city?

  25. Thanks Andrea and Tim! I appreciate your dedication to improving our neighbourhood. I would enjoy having a space nearby that could be our “village center”. A beautifully landscaped space where we could relax with our families in all seasons, meet neighbours, celebrate holiday activities and traditions from our various cultures and have kids play safely surrounded by shops that would bring activity and revenue to our community. My ideal would be to have additional cafes/businesses/restaurants encompassing a car-free square with a water feature with place for arts such as music, outdoor movies/plays/theatre or book readings connected with the library in the summer with surrounding businesses that would be open in the late summer nights (bakery,ice cream shop, cafe with outdoor seating, wine-tasting shop) instead of everything closing up after 6-8 pm. Having a mixed use of park-like space with community shops with day and evening activity such as in a European square would encourage continuous use of the space and keep it safe, and allow me to spend more time in our neighbourhood without having to drive somewhere like downtown or Columbia City. This may be a dream but wanted to throw some thoughts out there.

  26. Great idea but who or how to pay for it. The City of Seattle Parks is broke. Where will funds come from? What can we do to make this happen?

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