Olympia park officials have unveiled a six-year plan that focuses on buying more than 300 acres of land for new parks.
Other goals in the plan include breaking ground on a new community park, a skate court, two “sprayground” water play areas, community gardens, a disc golf course and a dog park.
These details are part of the proposed 2016 city parks plan announced Tuesday at the Olympia City Council meeting. The draft plan will go through a public comment period and revisions before returning for final council approval Feb. 9.
“Everything we’re proposing in the plan has a funding source,” said Jonathon Turlove, associate planner with the city’s parks department.
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The recently approved Metropolitan Parks District will make the parks department’s goals possible, Turlove said. Approved by more than 60 percent of city voters Nov. 3, the district will generate about $3 million a year that can only be used for park maintenance and park acquisition.
The parks department has led an extensive outreach effort — such as neighborhood meetings and surveys — to gather public feedback on parks.
The most common request has been to buy land for parks and open spaces, including the LBA Woods in southeast Olympia. Under the proposed six-year plan, the city is on track to acquire more than 300 acres for parks. That includes short-term options to purchase the 74-acre LBA Woods, the 75-acre Kaiser Heights property near Ken Lake, and an array of open spaces for neighborhood parks adding up to 25 acres.
Turlove added that the city would have funding to acquire another 169 acres, although no specific parcels have been identified yet. The city plans to acquire a total of 417 acres in the next 20 years.
“Much of it is based on public input,” Turlove said of the plan. “Olympians are excited about their park system.”
The plan doesn’t really address the public push to develop a park on the isthmus, the strip of land between West Bay and Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia. In 2013, the city acquired 2.34 acres there for a potential park, and this year, the city has demolished two vacant buildings on those sites.
However, the parks department is waiting on the outcome of the Community Renewal Area (CRA) process and the development of the Downtown Strategy to determine its level of involvement with the isthmus properties, according to the plan. The CRA is an economic development tool that would expand the city’s eminent domain powers. The isthmus properties are located within the CRA and are considered prime candidates for redevelopment.
A 2009 feasibility study concluded that the cost of developing a park on the isthmus could be up to $32 million.
The push for more park land is twofold. In 2004, voters approved a ballot measure promising to put the revenue from a 3 percent utility tax to go toward the purchase of 500 acres of park land. Only 63 acres were purchased, and the money from the utility tax ended up going toward basic park maintenance and operations.
The effort also coincides with Olympia’s projected population growth of more than 20,000 new residents in the next 20 years.
The plan would create more parks and trails within walking distance for Olympia residents. The parks department reports that the city’s current park-to-resident ratio is 2.3 acres per 1,000 people. The standard level is 3 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, according to the department, which reports that the proposed parks plan will raise the city’s ratio to 2.63 acres per 1,000 people by 2035.
Other highlights of the proposed plan include fully funding all park maintenance, hiring additional maintenance staff and support, and creating a reserve fund for Percival Landing work. The plan also addresses park safety by calling for more patrolling, lighting and resources for “encampment cleanup.”
Although the proposed plan drew praise from the council, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum warned against promising that everything in the plan would be funded.
“This will always be a balancing act between all the different things we aspire to do and what we are capable of doing,” Buxbaum said Tuesday. “I do think setting an expectation that everything is funded is sending a wrong message.”