Public Involvement is Required When Building in a Park

Parks Public Involvement Policy

Seattle Parks and Recreation has a Public Involvement Policy (PDF) which requires “early and thorough notification of proposals and projects” and “When possible, to invite the community’s ideas… rather than to present a list of options or a proposed design”.

And yet, there were no mailings to neighborhood residents, or project signs to inform park users, until late October 2016, a full year after the design process began. Community meetings were run by SAM and promoted primarily to SAM’s constituency, disregarding the outreach requirements clearly stated in Parks’ policy. Despite Volunteer Park’s stature and the magnitude of potential impacts, Seattle Parks has actively participated in only one community meeting, which Parks co-hosted in November 2016. All of the meetings presented only a single design created by SAM’s architects.

Save Our Parks Initiative

Seattle voters approved in 1997 the Save Our Parks initiative (Initiative 42), which became Seattle Ordinance 118477: any and all Seattle parklands are to be preserved for park use. If the use were to change (in this case to accommodate a museum building expansion), there would need to be a public hearing regarding the necessity of such change. We don’t believe SAAM has justified the expansion. To date, they have offered no alternatives to impinging on Volunteer Park.

Some people are claiming that a museum is a recreational purpose under Initiative 42 and is therefore a use of park land. We believe this is mistaken. Most museums are not in parks and there is no requirement for a museum to be in a park. Seattle Asian Art Museum is actually a nonconforming land use under the single-family zoning that applies to Volunteer Park. The project’s proponents are proposing City Council action to modify the zoning to allow this nonconforming use to be expanded.

If Initiative 42 can be interpreted to build a museum on park land, without public involvement, then there are no limits and no park land in Seattle will be safe from having this type of construction built on it.

Park Users are Uniformly Opposed

The citizen’s group “Protect Volunteer Park” has spoken with hundreds of people in and around the park, the vast majority of whom knew nothing about the expansion and expressed immediate opposition. Nearly 400 people have signed a petition to Seattle Parks Department, asking that park land not be taken to enlarge the museum.

Seattle Art Museum is working its large network of contacts to generate public comment in favor of expanding the museum. But we feel that the real public, those who use the park, have not been consulted.