Tall maple trees partially block the scenic views to the north and east from MacLean Park. Nearby residents hope to restore the park’s views of the rest of the city. Photo by Ian Ogburn
An ad hoc committee of the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners decided to table a recommendation to designate MacLean Park as a viewpoint destination until the next meeting.
A proposal to designate MacLean Park as a viewpoint was heard by the board meeting last Thursday, March 28. If accepted, the proposal’s call to designate the park as a viewpoint would require the view to be improved and maintained. Neglected maple trees have grown to partially block the views of Mount Baker to the north and Lake Union, Gas Works Park and the Cascade Mountains to the east.
In 2002, the Neighborhood Matching Fund provided a grant to construct MacLean Park in east Queen Anne, at Taylor Avenue North and Newton Street, above Aurora Avenue North. Since then, the park has seen the addition of a railing, sidewalk and two benches.
The park takes a steep drop from the top of Taylor Avenue, about 70 feet, and plateaus to the east. The sign at the top of the park originally described all the views one could see at the top of the hill, but it had to be altered when it was found that trees obstructed the views to the north and east. Some of the trees in the view corridor are on private property and could only be trimmed with permission.
Seattle Parks and Recreation adopted a viewpoint-designations policy in 2006. Parks that fit certain criteria are required to maintain its scenic views through vegetation restoration and management. Residents near MacLean Park think the park fits the criteria, as does Steve Kink of the Veranda condo’s board of directors, who helped create the original proposal.
Kink, the viewpoint-park coordinator, along with Veranda’s board president Joann K. Mertens, requested in the proposal that, in accordance to the parks department’s viewpoint-designations policy, “certain trees be eliminated and replaced or trimmed so as to restore the view as it was intended and to ensure against soil erosion and bank stabilization.”
The proposal justifies the designation by highlighting the park’s department Forest Restoration Plan for the Northeast Queen Anne Greenbelt. Kink and Mertens point out that the plan specifically identified MacLean Park as having “important aesthetic benefits for the community and the city.”
The plan identifies the need for tree topping to maintain the area’s picturesque views.
Factors to consider
At the Park Board meeting, the board outlined its concerns about restoration costing too much, adverse environmental impact and the park not serving a population outside of the immediate community.
Residents testifying at the hearing disagreed, noting that many people outside of the community use the park and that events like the Fourth of July draw hundreds of people to the site.
Parks-department senior planner David Graves said the estimated cost of the project would be $75,000 to $150,000, with an additional annual cost of $11,900 for maintenance. This includes the removal and planting of vegetation and topping of tall trees.
He reiterated that the vegetation will continue to grow and that park-goers could potentially lose many of the views.
“Neighbors have taken a lot of ownership; they really care about their park,” Graves said. “The question is, do we have the resources and does it fit the criteria? You set up expectations to the public that you will be there if you designate a park a viewpoint.”
Several residents urged the board to designate MacLean Park as a viewpoint during the public hearing.
“I watch people from all walks of life come to the park. I’m afraid it’s going to lose its use,” said Taylor Avenue resident Gretchen Luxembourg. “It’s an interesting vantage point of our city’s cultural heritage.”
Lee Smith, who also lives on Taylor Avenue, worked for 26 years in the parks service. He said he’s worked on the vegetation himself and seen firsthand what the parks department will need to deal with.
“The prime offenders are five old maple trees,” Smith said. “It’s a neglected site. To manage parks, you need to keep stuff at bay, and there is a jungle of exotics to take care of.”
Kink, who also testified at the hearing, argued that the greenbelt in Queen Anne falls under the Forest Restoration Plan, and therefore, MacLean Park should have a management system that preserves viewpoints. Kink urged that the board at least designate MacLean as a viewpoint park.
“As a community, we understand the problems the board faces. We’re not proposing you start [the restoration process] right now, but in the near future.”
Address issues first
Parks Board member Barbara Wright said she thinks the board should look for a compromise on how restoration will continue. Wright said the park looked unkempt and neglected when she visited it, reason enough for it to be managed properly.
Board member John Barber was hesitant on his recommendation, and said that there are issues that need to be addressed before they start chopping down trees. He cited mudslides, dead maple trees and retaining water as something to think about before starting the process.
The commission voted unanimously to table the recommendation, asking the MacLean Park community to work with the parks department to stabilize grounds and accomplish goals with the greenbelt. The result of this more intensive collaboration will allow the board to eventually make a more confident recommendation to the parks superintendent, members said.
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