Giving developers free and exclusive use of parks might be how things are done in Bremerton – but not the rest of the county.
The Bremerton Parks Department recently admitted it required no fee or formal agreement from Tim Ryan Construction (TRC) for its months-long takeover of a small downtown park. Fenced off since July, the Pacific Avenue park is used to store equipment and prepare materials for the construction of a fast-food restaurant on an adjacent property.
Read his story here.
I asked the county’s other park agencies how they would have handled such a proposal. If they didn’t outright reject the idea of a private developer using a public park, they would have at least required a fee and a legally-binding agreement.
“We would need to spell out responsibilities, and I guarantee you there’d be a charge,” said Terry Lande, executive director of the Bainbridge park district. “This has to be a benefit to the community for the inconvenience and the impact.”
Poulsbo Parks Director Mary McCluskey couldn’t fathom such an arrangement.
“Certainly, I’ve never dealt with anything like that with our parks or public spaces,” she said. “A developer asking to use part of a park? That’s a very unusual request.”
She said it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to make such a decision on her own.
“We would certainly take it to the City Council,” she said. “For the public to lose the benefit of a park without gaining something…I think the council would want to know.”
The public might also want an opportunity to weigh in.
“When the public loses a park, they have every right to question why a developer gets to use it and they can’t,” she said.
Bremerton had no public process leading to its verbal agreement with TRC. Bremerton Parks Director Jeff Elevado told Josh that TRC needed access to hookups for electricity and water underneath the park. The lengthy occupation (five months so far) was granted because TRC’s neighboring restaurant project might endanger park users and should be fenced off for the public’s safety. The company’s use of the property for storage, vehicle parking and wood- and metal-cutting projects is an added perk.
Kitsap County Parks Director Jim Dunwiddie OK’d a similar arrangement last year, but it wasn’t with a private developer – it was with another county department. And he billed them.
The county’s public works department wanted a section of Silverdale’s Old Mill Park for storing equipment during the building of the Bucklin Hill Bridge. Dunwiddie charged public works $10,000 for the use of less than an acre over several months.
“That’s taking a public property out of the hands of the public, so there would definitely have to be a fee,” Dunwiddie said.
The $10,000 was spent expanding Illahee Preserve.
Bremerton might not charge developers, but it does charge soccer teams, scout troops and anyone else wanting exclusive, short-term use of a park property or facility.
Renting a room for birthday party or club meeting at the Sheridan community center can top $50. A softball team must pay $52 to play at Lions Field. A soccer game at Kiwanis is $57.
If Bremerton made TRC pay the same rate it charges for a large meeting room ($37.25 per hour), the bill would have already topped $134,000.
Elevado told Josh the downtown park is of little value because of its size, which Elevado estimated at 200 square feet.
He’s off by a factor of 13. According to property records, it’s 2,614 square feet.
Bremerton purchased the property in 2010 and spent about $150,000 developing it. The park serves as a rest stop amid heavy flows of pedestrian traffic to and from the ferry terminal, Navy yard and nearby restaurants. Adorned with carved wood benches (now piled with sheet metal and tarps), blue picnic tables and Japanese maples, the park was a frequent lunch break spot and meeting place.
Regardless of a park’s size, use or value, local park leaders say there’s a principle at stake.
As Lande put it, public parks are for public – not private – benefit.
“We, as the managers of the parks, don’t own the parks,” he
“The community owns the property and they deserve reimbursement.”