Ball-field proponents wonder what’s next after striking out

“Play ball!”

“Play ball!”


That’s the question posed on some bumper stickers in Kenmore these days.

Youth soccer and baseball leagues in the city have been lobbying for new playing fields for more than three years, claiming that existing facilities are overbooked.

Open space is not only costly, but rare, and finding an area where development won’t infringe on critical habitats is nearly impossible, according to city officials.

Ball-field proponents have tried to get creative about finding a solution.

They worked with the city to develop plans for a dual-use soccer and baseball field at Wallace Swamp Creek Park, situated on land that the city inherited several years ago.

The Kenmore City Council voted in April to curb that idea, partly due to concerns about its cost. The project was estimated to run over budget.

Environmental-watchdog groups had also opposed the plan because it would allow active uses in what is currently a passive-use park.

Ball-field advocates lost the battle on that one set of plans.

Now the Washington State Parks Commission has dashed their hopes for another project — one that would have enhanced the athletic fields at Saint Edward State Park.

The city of Kenmore had requested permission to build a new facility there that would include three new baseball diamonds, two overlaying soccer fields and a potential cricket pitch — all on top of the two existing athletic fields.

The State Parks Commission voted unanimously against that plan Aug. 7.

State Parks Director Rex Derr claims there were three problems with the project: its footprint — which called for an expansion into roughly 10,000 square feet of wetlands — limited parking and operational input.

Another concern was whether State Parks should be involved in such endeavors.

“Ball-field development is atypical and counter to the purpose that State Parks serves to citizens,” Derr said. “We don’t want to get into the ball-fields business. That’s the responsibility of municipal government.”

Kenmore Little League representative Brent Smith claims the State Parks Commission is guilty of leading ball-field advocates on.

He notes that the State Parks Commission had agreed in January of 2007 that Saint Edward could provide community recreation facilities.

There were already several in the park — including a pool, gymnasium and children’s playground — making it an exception to the rule.

The Saint Edward master plan also allows for improvements to the existing fields, stating that they can “provide for no more than three baseball fields, including two overlaying soccer fields.”

“For me, those two things (the exception and the master-plan language) set the stage for the league and city staff to proceed with their plans,” Smith said. “They didn’t give us any indication that they didn’t want to see this happen.”

Derr notes that there were stipulations in the Saint Edward master plan that support the commission’s decision.

“Things were fuzzy and vague with the terms of what any change could be,” he said.

One condition states that any increased uses of the field should not have a disproportionate impact on the other park uses.

Another says that any new use of the field should not create parking conflicts.

Despite any hard feelings, the plan for developing new athletic fields at Saint Edward is dead.

That doesn’t mean the ball-fields saga is over.

Kenmore’s City Council has agreed to reconsider the development at Wallace Swamp Creek Park, pending the release of a final design and cost estimate.

Mayor David Baker called for the move after previously voting to halt planning in April.

This indicates a possible shift in the council’s overall stance on creating athletic fields at Wallace Swamp Creek Park.

Councilmember Laurie Sperry, who also voted to stop planning in April, has said that she’ll maintain her position.

“The idea that we need to put fields in a wetlands area is just crazy to me,” she said. “I understand that baseball is a big deal, but I don’t think you need to put it in a bad spot.”

Councilmember John Hendrickson has suggested that the city should seek a compromise to build two instead of three ball fields at Saint Edward.

Derr has indicated that this could be a viable option.

“There may be a reasonable degree of development of fields that would still fit in with the aura that a state park should maintain,” he said.

Hendrickson has also pushed for an artificial-turf field at Kenmore Elementary, and both he and Perry have floated the idea of utilizing fields outside of Kenmore.