Scores of community members attended the Dec. 9 Kenmore City Council meeting to voice their concerns about the proposed athletic field project at St. Edward State Park.
Currently, the city is seeking to improve the existing ball field area, which takes up about one percent (or about 3.5 acres) of the roughly 326-acre property. According to the city’s website, the project will result in a public sports field that will incorporate two youth soccer fields, two Little League fields, one full-size soccer field or one full-size cricket field. Artificial turf will replace natural grass.
In the city’s parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan, one of the goals stated is to develop existing parks that create a balance between active and passive use. The ball field was selected for the project because Kenmore deemed it the most accommodating to relevant recreational opportunities.
“The city owns nine parks but the majority have limited opportunities for developing new athletic fields as they are constrained by wetlands, streams and other areas that are preserved for open space and passive recreation and/or they are not ideally located or of sufficient size,” the city of Kenmore’s website states regarding area selection.
Kenmore had initially asked the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for a lease for the project in 2015. But when concerns about possible adverse environmental impacts came up, an environmental impact statement (EIS) — which analyzes how an area’s natural environment could be affected by renovation and discusses potential alternatives — became a necessity.
The review period for the EIS has been extended to Dec. 31, according to the city’s website.
At a Nov. 18 council meeting, the city of Kenmore announced that it had withdrawn from a $750,000 grant agreement with the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) that was to go toward the project.
Numerous citizens spoke during the public comment section of the Dec. 9 meeting to show their opposition to the project.
The city of Kenmore did not respond to a request for comment in time for the Reporter’s print deadline.
Community member Serena Freeman, who invoked a decrease in natural spaces in general, brought up concerns she had about the impact construction might have on the habitat and flora that depend on the park.
“We must practice sustainable habitats and protect our natural spaces,” she said. “A failure to do what we can for these places is not only wildly irresponsible — it is robbery. It is stealing a home that belongs to wildlife and it is theft of a public sanctuary, a fresh water source and a wealth of resources for our children. These places don’t need to be developed — they need to be preserved.”
Freeman brought her 5-year-old son Will Rokugan to the meeting and he also spoke.
“Nature isn’t just for humans — that’s what I’ve got to say,” Will said.
Whitney Neugebauer, whose family sometimes spends up to 15 hours a week using the field as it currently stands, said the area holds importance for many Kenmore residents who make use of the natural grass and the surrounding environment.
“It is Kenmore’s opportunity here to be forward-thinking and smart with this development,” she said. “Losing this natural space would be detrimental to kids in an increasingly urban area.”
Neugebauer added that although she understands that the renovations would likely increase sports opportunities, she believes there are better places to create similar spaces.
Employees from the Kenmore-based Camp Roots Forest School, which is a nature-immersion program catering to families and children wanting to become more familiar with the environment, were also at the meeting. One staffer, Katherine Hales, said that while the impression of some people might be that the field is underutilized and that it would be of greater benefit if it were used for sports, 300 hours of programming for Camp Roots had been conducted there during the 2018-19 school year alone.
Hales discussed the uniqueness of the ecological wetland by the field and the many opportunities students have had to observe wildlife such as deer, coyote and birds and surrounding greenery.
“This field is valuable and is being used in its present state,” Hales said. “It doesn’t look like much, but it means a lot to us and all the kids in our programs.”
Community member Karen Prince praised the city for the idea driving the renovation but criticized its approach. She also suggested that recent circumstances surrounding the project — like the recent loss of a grant and the announcement that Kenmore has been unable to sync operating revenues with business costs—need to be looked at further.
Prince said the possible ecological drawbacks are antithetical to city priorities surrounding sustainability and environmental support.
“We are glad to have our taxes pay for all the beneficial plans Kenmore is working on…however, the Kenmore ball field proposal is not aligned with the environmental values the city claims,” Prince said.
Law student Dakota Rash said he has had many conversations with citizens and has seen a large number of residents voice their opposition to the project, expressing a desire to leave the athletic field as it stands. Rash said he wants the city to maintain a connection with nature, as well as support unstructured engagement with the natural environment for youth.
“This city has shown that it wants to grow and it wants to progress,” Rash said. “I think more and more in this day and age we need to progress in a way that’s environmentally conscious. I encourage you to have the courage and the maturity to embrace that trend and grow in that direction and leave the green space as it is.”