Published 7:28 pm Sunday, April 8, 2007

By Staff
In all the fuss over the former Evans Seafood property, some opponents of developing that half-acre site commercially say they want that land and the adjacent open space to remain as open space — a park for people to enjoy.
But when people say that developing that half acre means the city doesn’t care about providing open space and parks for its residents, well, perhaps they need to rethink the matter. Many folks have forgotten the city has a master parks-and-recreation plan that calls for open space, parks and similar amenities.
In March 2006, the Washington City Council authorized the mayor to sign a $28,000 contract with Hayes, Seay, Mattern &Mattern (now known as HSMM Consultants) to produce a master parks-and-recreation plan for the city. At the council’s two-day planning session in February, HSMM’s Bob Harned provided an update on that plan.
The plan calls for a linear park that parallels Jack’s Creek, preserving green space, introducing “new” recreation activities and ensuring the public has at least adequate access to the city’s waterfront. In the discussion that followed Harned’s remarks, city officials talked about the important link between parks and recreation, tourism and economic development.
Even before the city tore down the old Washington Arms apartment complex several years ago, city officials and residents talked about using that property as a component of a linear park system. The city’s decision to raze the old Washington Arms complex and turn it into green space seems to be forgotten by those who complain the city isn’t interested in preserving open space.
Because the city “created” open space where a residential development once stood, that opened the door for the Veterans Park to be expanded and remodeled.
Don’t forget the city was behind the project that resulted in five acres of a former planing-mill site being turned into manmade wetlands and a boardwalk used by humans and animals. Is the city better off for turning what used to be green space near the Warren Field Airport into a sports complex that benefits thousands of people each year and helps bring money to city merchants, innkeepers and restaurant owners? Probably.
The issue isn’t open space versus development. It’s finding the balance between open space and development. Building a home on a lot is development, but how many of us would be willing to do without our homes to preserve open space? Disagreements in the open space-versus-development debate often come down to differences over what happens on a piece of land. One man’s dream could be another man’s nightmare.
As for the people who don’t want a hotel on the former Evans Seafood property site but say they could support an amphitheater there, isn’t that use of the land a form of commercial development? As for the people who see the former Evans Seafood property as a development plum ripe for the picking, don’t forget the land is owned by the city, which has just under 10,000 stakeholders with interests in what happens to that land.
Should the city decide to sell the land, something it has not yet done, the adjacent land should remain as open space. But that open space should be cleaned up, maintained and provide access to the waterfront, which must always belong to the people.
Could the city do a better job of preserving open space? Yes. All it need do is stop all future development of open space. We all could do a better job of preserving open space — if we acted instead of talked.
And as the city should work even harder to protect open space, people should remember that Washington has provided more open space for the linear park by tearing down development and enhanced its recreation offerings by turning open space into a sports complex.
That’s finding the proper balance between protecting open space and providing development that keeps the city and its residents prosperous.