L.B. Park: An unprecedented opportunity - Island Forum

By Joe Wallis

The City of Mercer Island has gained control of a stunning urban open space with acquisition of Luther Burbank Park. With this acquisition, the city gains control of development, maintenance and operation of the park.

The King County Assessor's Office assesses the value of the park site at $76.54 million, and the area of the park is 76.26 acres, for a value of more than $1 million per acre. The park has 3,745 feet of waterfront and exceptional views which contribute to the value of the site. In addition to these amenities, the park has common property lines on the east and north sides of the Community Center at Mercer View, a benefit to the city of common ownership of the properties.

A first priority for improving Luther Burbank should be protection of the waterfront from further erosion. If the length of the waterfront eroded just six inches, the loss of land value would be $43,142.

Luther Burbank Park has the potential to be a great urban open space that provides enjoyment to residents of this and surrounding communities.

Various issues have been discussed in community workshops held Nov. 13 and Dec. 2 and likely will be discussed at a third workshop scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Islander Middle School. There have been comments that the community should vote on the proposed development and maintenance of the park. If in fact there is a vote on the development and maintenance of the park, I would hope there would be a definitive proposal with schematic site plans with estimated costs. There would preferably be at least two proposals so that voters would have an option of development schemes to provide an explicit indication of the consensus of a majority of Island voters.

One scheme that could be offered for development would be the naturalistic, user-friendly scheme. This scheme would use native plant materials in a site plan designed by a landscape architect with urban design experience. It would be designed to provide for uses that take advantage of the waterfront and the views. Vendor carts could be included on a limited basis in the active areas around the existing administration building.

Another scheme that could be considered would be the active waterfront design. This scheme would take advantage of the waterfront access of the park and would develop facilities to accommodate boating, canoeing, rowing shells, etc. This concept could include a casual dining facility with a deck overlooking the lake. Fueling facilities could be considered with full environmental considerations included. One principle objective of the active waterfront scheme would be to include facilities that generate revenue to offset some of the costs of park development and maintenance.

Regardless of the scheme accepted and developed, some common elements should be included such as the following:

* It is necessary to recognize the site has been neglected for a decade or more; that many of the plants and planting patterns are not natural to this area and should be replaced over time in conformance with good urban forestry practices.

* If an off-leash dog area is included in the design, it should have ample space away from the waterfront and have direct access from the parking area. The off-leash area should be sufficiently screened from adjacent uses to protect other park users.

Design studio classes in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington have in the past used community projects as a design project. An initial response to an inquiry to the university indicates there is potential interest in using Luther Burbank as a class project. A follow-up is not possible until later this month.

Having a voice in the design of a site like Luther Burbank Park is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are setting a course that will affect the design and use of this unique site well into the future. We must take this opportunity to invest our time and effort to use this heritage site well.

Joe Wallis is a Mercer Island resident and former Reporter editorial board member.

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