Tax vote letsparks plan take shape

Olympia voters did some heavy lifting on Election Day. They approved a ballot measure to create a citywide Metropolitan Parks District and to increase property taxes to raise about $3 million yearly for parks acquisition and maintenance.

The money is needed. For the first time in a long while, the city has a funding source to cover its ambitions. It is in a position to lock up as many as 417 acres over 20 years that ultimately will be needed to accommodate the predicted 20,000 increase in population over that period.

The big ones are woods near LBA Park, Kaiser Heights near Ken Lake, repairs to Percival Landing, and several smaller additions that will include a dog park.

Things are also looking up for existing parks that the city has been unable to repair or adequately maintain since the Great Recession.

The much awaited draft of a new six-year parks plan was released Tuesday. The City Council is scheduled to adopt a final plan – after public hearings – on Feb. 9, 2016.

The lack of a completed long-term parks plan was one of the shortcomings we saw with Proposition 1, although we supported it anyway.

Advocates for Prop. 1 did a good job of turning out voters by dangling many projects that different corners of the city wanted. Some likely purchases in the near term are a 74-acre wooded plot next to LBA Park on the southeast side and the 75 acres near Ken Lake on the southwest. The city bought options on both this year.

One major piece on the Prop. 1 wish list is still a mirage – namely the Capitol Center Building, which backers of the Capitol Olympic Vista Park want the city to buy and tear down. Advocates want to include the property in a park.

A new buyer for the nine-story Capitol Center Building has said he hopes to close on a deal early next year, killing park advocates’ hopes to for an easy public purchase. But some advocates including Jerry Reilly have asked the City Council to step in and negotiate a purchase from either the current or pending owner.

On Thursday, Capitol Olympic Vista Park backers celebrated the removal of a second dilapidated building on the isthmus that frees land to be part of the park and possibly new mixed-use development that could include a tribal museum or library and other amenities.

A larger effort to create a “downtown strategy” is also under way. It will help define whatever is achievable on the isthmus.

Lame duck Mayor Stephen Buxbaum has been right in pointing out that not everything sought by Prop. 1 backers may be affordable or even available.

With all this in the cards, residents have time to examine the draft parks plan and offer comments.

The city is moving in a good direction to buy lands that need to be set aside from development. How much to buy, and where, are still open questions.