City to begin work for Luther Burbank Park master plan - Some residents remain skeptical of council"s intent

By Ruth Longoria

City staff say folks don't need to worry about a lot of major changes to Luther Burbank Park in the next 20 years or so. But, saying not to worry sparks a forest fire of concerns for some Islanders who attended community input visioning workshops for the park.

A half-dozen concerned park-goers spoke at the Aug. 1 City Council meetings, urging the council to slow down and allow more public input before setting in motion what some fear could be the end of the serene, natural qualities of the 77-acre park King County donated to the city in Jan. 2003.

Despite earlier pleas from residents, the City Council voted unanimously on Aug. 1 to authorize staff to move forward with the Luther Burbank Park Master Plan process, and proceed with a second-phase of the plan, which will include preliminary cost estimates and analysis, putting design ideas and suggestions on paper, and may involve more community involvement and input, says Parks and Recreation Department Director Pete Mayer.

But, what worries some residents, including Islander Randal Houtz, is that the council isn't listening to input residents already provided. Instead, Houtz says, it is heeding the advice of consultants hired to disseminate that input.

``The guidelines are so vague we aren't sure if we agree or not,'' Houtz says.

Houtz, who is active in the now-forming off-leash dog park's Mercer Island Dog Owner Group (MIDOG), says he's concerned partially because one of the listed guidelines was added without any public input.

``They start off with saying we want them to preserve the existing serenity of the park, which we do, and then they add in: `Ensure that support facilities are adequate,' which is a blank statement to add parking, roads to the dock they want to build and anything else they want to do. They (the city) say they will listen to public input, then they hire a consultant -- who is a handmaiden to the city that hired them -- who writes vague guidelines and then the city does what they want.''

However, Mayer is convinced the city has listened, and will continue to listen, to public input about the park. Mayer says the second phase of the master plan is ``basically just putting some meat on the bones'' of the guidelines, which were set up through the various community visioning workshops and public meetings attended by about 80 residents last fall and winter.

The design guidelines were in place in February as part of the park's 20-year plan.

``I don't anticipate any shocking new things or surprises from what the guidelines set up,'' Mayer says. ``There might be some new elements suggested from the community, and that's fine, as long as they fit in with the design guidelines.''

During its council retreat in April, the City Council directed city staff to hire a consultant team and continue work on the Master Plan process. The Berger Partnership, along with Anchor Environmental Team, was selected by staff to assist and coordinate the planning process.In Sept. 2004, the city hired the firm Norton-Arnold & Company for $72,000 to design and implement a public involvement plan. The money was allocated from funds from the 2004 open space acquisition budget and unallocated Capital Improvements Plan funds.

The established guidelines are to:

? Preserve the existing serenity of the park.

? Protect and enhance the shoreline experience

? Protect and enhance wetland areas.

? Preserve existing historical and cultural resources.

? Rehabilitate the swimming beach.

? Expand (sports) court usage.

? Maintain and improve the existing meadow.

? Provide for an off-leash dog area.

? Revitalize the dock area.

? Expand and enhance activities for children.

? Consider new picnic facilities.

? Explore opportunities for new seasonal food vendors and special events.

? Ensure that support facilities (such as parking and restrooms) are adequate.

? Create a greater ease of connection with the Upper Luther Burbank.

Following the council's newest direction to move forward, staff is expected to bring the phase two design scope and fee proposal back for approval during the Sept. 6 council meeting. Upon approval, the next phase of the park master planning process will begin and is expected to conclude in mid-spring 2006. The fee proposal is expected to be in the range of $95,000 to $125,000 for all master planning work, including site survey, trail design and public involvement facilitation, according to information provided by city staff.

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