Latest Updates (Blog)

Press Release: Legal Fight Begins Over Mayor Murray’s Park Land Giveaway

(A press release we issued on May 7, 2017. For more information and context, please see our legal page: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park.)

Legal Fight Begins Over Mayor Murray’s Park Land Giveaway

Seattle – Protect Volunteer Park (PVP), a pro-public park community group, today began what may become a major legal fight and campaign issue over Mayor Ed Murray’s decisions to improperly give away Seattle public parkland.

PVP sent a substantive legal letter (PDF) to the Mayor and Seattle Parks and Recreation protesting the Mayor’s parkland giveaway at Seattle’s Volunteer Park and demanding the City follow city law by holding a public hearing to determine whether the expansion truly is necessary and whether reasonable and practical alternatives exist.

“Volunteer Park is a priceless gem of the Seattle Park System, an invaluable resource for park users, Seattleites, and the residents of Capitol Hill,” said David Bricklin, PVP’s legal counsel and environmental law expert. “The public deserves an open hearing on the issue as Initiative 42 requires.”

“Our City’s parkland can’t be sold, transferred or changed from park use without a public hearing,” said John Colwell, PVP’s spokesperson.

The decision of the Mayor and Seattle Parks and Recreation to expand the Seattle Art Museum’s Asian Art Museum project at Volunteer Park will take valuable public landscape parkland for a new 13,600 square foot, 50-foot high building expansion.  What began as a simple renovation project has now become a large expansion and land-grab by the SAM and the Mayor in one of our City’s most beloved public parks, in clear violation of Initiative 42.

“Mayor Murray, Parks Superintendent Jesus Aguirre and the Seattle Art Museum have negotiated a backroom deal to build a bigger museum in Volunteer Park,” Colwell said.  “The public has largely been left out of that deal.”

Art Museum leadership claims I-42 constraints don’t apply to their project. The Mayor and Parks Department concur, thereby avoiding a public hearing and a compulsory exploration of alternatives.

“Voters declared 20 years ago that a public park is just that: a “park,” not a “museum” or a “building,” said Colwell. “They codified that with I-42, which says repurposing parkland demands a public hearing. The Mayor and Parks need to follow the law.”

Initiative 42 (Seattle Or. 118477, Section 1) reads as follows:

“All lands and facilities held now or in the future by The City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes, whether designated as park, park boulevard, or open space, shall be preserved for such use; and no such land or facility shall be sold, transferred, or changed from park use to another usage, unless the City shall first hold a public hearing regarding the necessity of such a transaction and then enact an ordinance finding that the transaction is necessary because there is no reasonable practical alternative . . . .”

Attachment:
David Bricklin’s Letter to the Mayor and Parks Superintendent (PDF)

 

May 2017 Update

Here’s the latest from Protect Volunteer Park!

We’re on Facebook and Twitter

Follow us for the most frequent updates, and share/retweet our postings:

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/protectvolunteerpark/
Twitter:    @PVPseattle

Environmental Review and Our Appeal

Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspections (DCI) completed its Environmental Review and found that “potential significant adverse impacts have been identified” on the landmarked features of the park. Nonetheless, DCI did not require an Environmental Impact Statement, and instead released a Declaration of Nonsignificance (DNS).

We believe this decision is based on faulty legal reasoning. Therefore, Protect Volunteer Park has filed an appeal with DCI, assisted by the leading environmental attorney David Bricklin. To learn more about PVP’s legal action, see: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park.

Our hearing is scheduled for June 7, but there will not be any opportunity for public comment, so don’t come out unless you really like this kind of thing.

So We Have Legal Bills Now

If you can, please donate to help fund legal action to protect Volunteer Park! We have been consulting with our attorney for several months, with the bills covered by our core team. Now that we are involved in actual legal proceedings, the legal expenses have grown and your help would be much appreciated.

Our legal page tells how you can donate: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park

Next Steps

The City of Seattle and Seattle Art Museum are still trying to move this project forward with all its adverse impacts on the naturalistic landscape of Volunteer Park.

There are still some hurdles:

Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) approval is required. A few LPB members have expressed resistance, but the majority appear likely to vote to approve the project.

City Council approval is required, both because the project violates the zoning and would require a code change, and because the Council must approve spending $19 million of City funds.

We have updated the Action Center to feature the most important officials to contact, so please click that link to send a message.

We are also watching the public meeting agendas and will send action alerts when a relevant event is coming up, so please follow our Facebook (protectvolunteerpark) and Twitter (@PVPseattle). It’s fun to come out and give a 2 minute comment. Maybe we have a strange idea of fun, but there it is.

Public Benefits and Costs at Asian Art Museum

Did you know that the museum in Volunteer Park originally had free admission, four days per week? What happened to that, anyway? See our new article, Public Benefits Cut, Public Spending Maintained.

Connecting with Other Seattle Parks Issues

There are other parks where the City administration wants to give up park land to construct facilities for the benefit of a private operator. We open space advocates can benefit from getting to know each other, and each other’s issues. And maybe you’ve heard something about the “privatization” debate at the Green Lake pool? See Privatization in Seattle’s Other Parks to learn more.

Thank You

Thank you for reading our update and caring about Volunteer Park. We appreciate your advocacy and support.

If you have comments, please email pvpinfo@protectvolunteerpark.org .

Web Site Redesign

As you can see, there is a new design of the ProtectVolunteerPark.org web site.  We hope you find it useful and informative.

The home page is intended as an information resource for all users. The text provides an overview of the situation, and links lead to deeper information for those who want to get involved and learn more.

The series of blog posts (which used to be the home page) are now at this page which gives you the latest updates: Latest Updates (Blog) .

We invite your comments! You can comment on this page, or email: pvpinfo@protectvolunteerpark.org .

Much Happening in December (and new Online Action Center)

December has become a busy month for protecting Volunteer Park! More info below, but first, check out our new

Online Action Center

On this page are links which you can click to very easily send an advocacy message to City decision makers. They need your messages. Seattle Art Museum is asking its members to advocate in favor of expanding the museum building into Volunteer Park. I am sure that the opponents outnumber proponents, but we need to show that!

December 7: Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board received another briefing about the project. Some of the Landmarks members have responded favorably to our public comments. Send them a message at the Online Action Center.

December 10: Seattle Art Museum is having one of their community meetings where they present and advocate for only one option, their museum expansion plan. Seattle Parks is not co-hosting this meeting, so there may not be any City employees present.

December 15: Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspection has scheduled a public meeting about the project. This means that the previous November 30 comment deadline is extended to December 15. Please come to this meeting and speak out! And even if you do so, they need email comments too: see the Online Action Center. The public meeting is:

Thursday, December 15, 2016
6:30 PM
Miller Community Center

Environmental Review! Comments needed by November 30

Events are accelerating around the museum expansion project. The Master Use Permit signs have appeared with a deadline of November 30 for public comment. (The deadline was extended by written request.) We need as many people as possible to send public comments!

Send comment letters to PRC@seattle.gov and be sure to reference Master Use Project # 3024753. You can also enter this number at this City web site to see project documents.

In commenting on an environmental review, it is helpful to reference questions from the SEPA Environmental Checklist such as:

  • What views in the immediate vicinity would be altered or obstructed?
  • Would the proposed project displace any existing recreational uses?
  • What measures do you propose to avoid, minimize or mitigate for deliberate impacts to historic structures or cultural resources?

On behalf of the park, thank you for taking action when it was needed.

Opportunities for Action

The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners is having its regular meeting on Thursday, October 27, with an agenda that includes an update on the Asian Art Museum expansion, and the opportunity for public comment. Click here for a PDF document describing the agenda and meeting information. If you cannot attend in person, written comments may be sent to Rachel.Acosta@seattle.gov .

Also, the Seattle City Council is engaged in budget deliberations. At issue is the Mayor’s proposal to add $5 million in parks capital funds for the  museum expansion. For more details, see the “Department of Parks and Recreation” memo linked at SCC Insight. You can comment by email to the council members, whose email addressses can be found here.

Brief report on the October 15 Community Meeting

Seattle Art Museum held one of its monthly community meetings today about the Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. We handed out our Position Statement outside the building. It clearly made an impression, since SAM CEO Kim Rorschach opened the event by holding up a rain-spattered copy of the Position Statement and saying that it was misleading and contained several falsehoods. During the Q&A period, I had a chance to ask what was wrong with it. Kim said that Seattle Art Museum will be posting their own information in rebuttal. She questioned phrases we used such as SAM being “heavily subsidized”, but did not cite any specific factual errors. If we learn of any, we will correct them.

Here are a few other observations and thoughts about the meeting. I did not count the attendees but I would guess 40 to 50.

Notably there was no one present from the City of Seattle (except one person who disclosed being a City employee, but was commenting only as a member of the public). At one point an audience member asked if anyone from the Parks Department was in the room, but there was no reply. This was totally a SAM event.

There was a good long Q&A period which I always appreciate. Out of about 24 speakers I counted 10 opposed to the project or the process, 10 in favor, and a few in the middle. So it is safe to say that there continues to be significant debate about the merits of this plan, among the people participating in SAM’s community meetings. To be clear, no one expressed opposition to anything regarding the seismic upgrade and HVAC work. It is all about the additions.

As with the previous meetings there was very limited outreach. No notices have gone out yet to residences in the neighborhood. The City put out a strange press release on October 13, announcing the meeting less than 48 hours before it occurred, and listing among the goals: “adding vital gallery and education space with a modest expansion”. This echoes the exact language SAM staff use to sell the project. I would prefer to see the City government act less captive.

But even if this process included good outreach, something more would be required. I appreciate the person at the meeting who stood up and said that there is a difference between public outreach and public engagement. Outreach is letting the public know about something that is going to happen anyway (but maybe small changes can be made). Engagement is actually listening to the public’s needs and opinions. This project has gone too far without true public engagement. Let’s pause to make sure we are doing the right thing, and discuss what a responsible process would look like. Volunteer Park is a special place and we should be careful with it.

Position Statement

[UPDATE: the Position Statement has been updated since this post. For the latest version, go to the page: Position Statement]

[Here is a 1-page position statement from the Protect Volunteer Park team. Also, consider attending the SAM “community meeting” on Saturday, October 15, 2016, from 1:00pm – 2:30pm, at Seattle Asian Art Museum. But remember that this is not a real public meeting, because the general public has not been notified, and only one option is being presented.]

Stop the Expansion of Volunteer Park’s Asian Art Museum

By Jonathan Mark and the Protect Volunteer Park team. Visit us at ProtectVolunteerPark.org

A Renovation Quietly Became an Expansion

Seattle voters and City Council have together approved $14 million, plus county and state funds, for “renovations to the Seattle Asian Art Museum including seismic and HVAC upgrades”. We support this important work.

Unfortunately, SAM now proposes two additions which increase the building’s footprint by 15%. The larger is a 3-story glass-walled box on the east side, extending 35 feet plus a 20 to 26 foot terrace. Mayor Ed Murray has proposed an additional $5 million in City of Seattle funds to expand the project. The Asian Art Museum is already heavily subsidized. SAM leases the City-owned building at no charge, and the City pays $200,000 per year for utilities and housekeeping.

Impact on Volunteer Park

“In a landscape park the planning and improvement of its landscape possibilities should always be the first consideration.”
– Olmsted Brothers, quoted in the exhibit in Volunteer Park’s water tower

Volunteer Park is a centerpiece of Seattle’s Olmsted park and boulevard system. Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum are both designated historic landmarks. Landmark law requires the historical use to be preserved or minimally changed. It is wrong to improve one landmark (the museum) by sacrificing and degrading another (the park).

The east addition would destroy precious parkland, carefully designed by the Olmsted brothers. and block the park’s sightlines. Its bulk would dominate east Volunteer Park, yielding attractive views from within the glass-walled building, but blocking natural landscape views from many locations within the park. A huge beechwood tree would become half-surrounded by the building and no longer viewable from the south.

The construction process will further harm the trees, plants, animals, park users, neighbors, and local roads. SAM refuses to specify staging locations or construction vehicle routes. This is a dense neighborhood around ecologically sensitive park land, with roads in poor condition, and not well suited to a massive building project.

Volunteer Park does not need enhancements or to be “connected” to any structure (the architect’s word). Public open space is needed to provide respite from the pressures of urbanization and density. The Olmsted Parks in Seattle are such an incredible gift to the citizens of Seattle. Let’s not allow the gift to be squandered.

Lack of Public Process

There been no public process suited to this taking of parkland. SAM has run its own series of public meetings which were not well-publicized or well-attended. SAM does not present any alternatives in these meetings, only SAM’s preferred plan. And yet, $2 million in City of Seattle funds have already been spent, a building contractor selected, and the permit applied for. SAM staff take the attitude that the decision to build additions has already been made.

This is wrong. If there is to be a taking of Volunteer Park land, and major development within the park, the City needs to notify the public and accept real input before a decision is made. This means offering real alternatives, including the alternative of keeping the existing building footprint.

Alternatives

“Meanwhile, the Seattle Art Museum chose not to expand in the park and instead built a new museum downtown.”
– Exhibit in the water tower

The Seattle Art Museum has rights to expand into 8 additional floors of its downtown building, currently leased out to a for-profit company. This location does not destroy or degrade any of Seattle’s public open space, and has good transit connections. Given this ready alternative, we think the public must reject the museum expansion into our Olmsted park.

Visit us and take action at our web site! ProtectVolunteerPark.org

John C. Olmsted warned about the idea that landscape parks are “merely vacant land awaiting decoration by public buildings”. This “mistaken idea”, as Olmsted called it, continues to be a challenge for park land everywhere.
– Exhibit in the water tower

Letter from TreePAC and Cass Turnbull

This letter was sent to city officials. We have received permission to post it here also. TreePAC is a political non-profit created to protect and advocate for Seattle’s urban forest.

TreePAC is against the proposed expansion of the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It is important for us to stop thinking of green space as free land to be used for other things. As with most environmental damage, the cumulative effect of many small, seemingly insignificant losses–each taking having a good justification–eventually adds up to serious and sometimes irreversible problems.

Seattle is losing trees and greenspace on private property at an alarming rate because of the building boom. Concrete covers land where trees once stood and where trees will never grow again.  At the same time the Parks District indicates that it will neither be adding more green space to mitigate the environmental losses, nor to meet the increasing needs of 200,000 new residents. In this equation we seem to have forgotten that all these people need green space and large trees as are found in Volunteer Park, a City and National Landmark designed by John C. Olmsted.

The proposed expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) threatens the integrity of Volunteer Park.  Previous additions to the SAAM encroached upon the land and are an architectural mismatch to the natural beauty of the park.  Volunteer Park’s stately trees and lawns are irreplaceable.  Even those trees not directly in the path of building expansion are threatened by construction activities.

The Seattle Protect Our Parks Ordinance #118477 states “An Ordinance requiring the preservation of all lands and facilities held now or in the future by the City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes; stipulating that such lands and facilities may only be changed from park use after a public hearing and the enactment of an ordinance finding that such action is necessary, and providing for simultaneous exchange of land or facilities of equal or better value.”

Public engagement in this project has been all but non-existent.

TreePAC does endorse the much needed improvements to the existing SAAM building that voters approved in 2008.  But if more space is needed, then a new building should be located within the foot print of a preexisting building that has been torn down, elsewhere.  In our view, this should be our policy to protect all our public greenspaces from encroachment.

We are asking the Mayor and City Council to act on behalf of the public good and the public trust by halting the expansion plans and permit applications until Seattle Citizens have been fully informed and engaged in decisions concerning conversion of valuable Volunteer Park property. Once public green space is gone, it is gone for good.

Cass Turnbull
TreePAC President & Board members

TreePAC is a political non-profit created to protect and advocate for Seattle’s urban forest.

Welcome to ProtectVolunteerPark.org

20160904_southeast_view_edited

Updated: to reflect that the latest architectural drawings (presented on September 10) no longer show the circled tree removed.

Welcome! The photo above shows why this blog exists. This landscape is the east side of Volunteer Park. Notice the tree circled in yellow. This and other Some trees are planned to be removed and replaced with this:

addition

I don’t remember anyone asking the community if we are willing to give up part of Volunteer Park for this purpose. In fact, the whole expansion plan has been handled quietly and was little known before August 24, when some of the park’s neighbors acquired a document recently presented to the Landmarks Preservation Board, from which the above image is taken.

This blog is intended to help inform the public and add to a constructive conversation around this issue. But it also has an advocacy purpose, as a home for those of us who think the answer to the unasked question should be: No, we are not willing to have part of Volunteer Park converted to this purpose.

More information and advocacy are to come! Please feel free to comment. If you would like to author a post on the blog, please email me, Jonathan Mark, at jhmark@xenops.com. And whatever your position about this issue, thank you for being here and caring about the park and the community.