Progress on proposed St. Edward State Park athletic field renovations has come to a halt.
At its Feb. 3 meeting, the Kenmore City Council voted 4-3 to put the kibosh on the project, which has been in talks — and has been a topic of contention — in the city for several years.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Councilmember Joe Marshall, who ultimately voted against continuing with the project, said ahead of the vote.
The meeting, whose entirety was taken up by athletic field discussion, was broken up into three sections: an update from community development director Debbie Bent, development services director Bryan Hampson and city manager Rob Karlinsey; a period of public comment; and a final discussion and vote by council.
The project had proposed renovations to the currently standing ball field area at St. Edward, which stretches some 3.5 acres out of the park’s 316 acres. It was proposed, according to the city of Kenmore’s website, that the ball field be refurbished into a new public field design that could foster either two youth soccer fields, two Little League fields, one full-size soccer field or one full-size cricket field, with the lease held by Washington State Parks and Kenmore responsible for management and maintenance.
Council, ultimately, was to decide whether to vote to continue with the environmental impact statement (EIS) process (which the project is currently in the midst of); reduce the number of alternatives considered in the EIS; or stop the EIS process altogether.
An EIS, which was necessary for the project to move forward, is a document that describes, after a site has been analyzed, potentially adverse environmental impacts of a proposed project. It is completed in the course of several phases. For St. Edward, Kenmore recently finished phase one, or “scoping.” Scoping gives the public, tribal governments and other agencies a chance to share their thoughts on various details of a proposed project before analysis is conducted.
“The anticipated outcome of completing an environmental review is hopefully a project that would balance environmental protection with continuing the historical ball field use,” Bent said at the beginning of the meeting.
It was estimated that $331,747 would have been needed to complete the EIS process. Currently, $200,000 is allocated for the project in the city’s 2019 six-year capital improvement budget, of which $100,000 has been used for the first phase of the EIS process. Phase two, which would see through the drafted and final EIS statement, was estimated to cost about $231,855.
On the city of Kenmore website it is estimated that if the project were to proceed, the renovation would not have occurred until 2024 at the earliest.
Some 40 people signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the Feb. 3 meeting. Those for and against the project were provided three minutes to give their testimonials.
“Please be respectful of each other,” Mayor David Baker, who gave attendees an opportunity to wave any signage for a short, sustained period before requesting it be put away, said before public comment opened. “There are those that don’t want the park developed; there are those who want the ball field. We know this; you know this.”
Numerous rationales on both sides were given. Those in favor of proceeding with the EIS predominantly spoke of how the field would support young athletes (particularly Little Leaguers) and families in Kenmore. Those against the project cited concerns over issues such as negative environmental effects (the property is marked by wetlands), parking, financial feasibility, noise and the disconnect of having a state park serve Kenmore-specific needs.
Many of those who opposed the project noted that while they thought an added athletic field option was positive, different locations and/or options should be considered.
Danny Howe, who has been a volunteer coach for North Lake Little League for seven years, brought up how limited field access is for the league, and the large effect the field could have on future generations. A Little League scheduler cited on the city of Kenmore’s website noted that eight fields are accessible to the organization’s 45 teams.
“We don’t ask for anything, but we ask for your help,” Howe said to council. “The future of Little League baseball in Kenmore is in your hands…We cannot do it alone. We are all volunteers. Please don’t turn away from this project…I just want to say I would hate it for us to be here in 16 years and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Little League program here’ but turn to our children and say, ‘We tried once, but it went away because we don’t have the fields.’”
Kenmore resident Phyllis Finley likened the ongoing work on the athletic field project to the sunk cost effect. The effect is defined as a fallacy where people continue to invest in something that has proven largely unsuccessful because there is a perceived rewarding outcome attached to it and or because a lot of time has been given to it.
“It’s psychologically hard to accept that nearly $1 million is already sunk and we’re not getting that back,” Finley said. “Sticking with a plan, even when it’s no longer effective, could be an attempt to reconcile the mental and emotional disconnect between paying for something and not getting the expected return on investment…The bet, after yet another EIS payment, that State Parks will reject the proposal, is very high. The bet, after yet another huge EIS payment, that state parks could accept one of the proposal variations, with many expensive, unaffordable strings attached, is also very high. Either way, we don’t have the money for the gamble.”
David Stokes, a Kenmore resident and biology teacher at the University of Washington Bothell, highlighted that the wetlands marking the area are unusually intact for the Seattle area. He said as a result, species such as bobcats, river otters, flying squirrels and others abound.
“There is no place that has the natural ecosystems that are as intact as St. Edward State Park,” he said. “It’s easily the most ecologically intact public space.”
Council discussion and vote
Before voting on the fate of the EIS, Councilmember Milton Curtis said that he was factoring three things — obstacles/likelihood of success, looking at the cost-to-benefit ratio and data — to drive his decision.
Curtis noted that the cost for the project has increased in the last three to five years and that citizens had listed the ball field as a low priority during recent outreach efforts. Curtis, who ultimately voted to stop the EIS process, said not proceeding with the St. Edward work would not change the fact that ball fields in Kenmore are still a subject of concern. He brought up that $3.5 million is being proposed in the parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan to go specifically to fields.
Councilmember Debra Srebnik voted to continue on with the EIS process.
“I support completing the EIS process in order to obtain the scientific guidance that will help us get to a win-win in terms of methods to both restore the wetland and renovate the field,” she said.
Deputy mayor Nigel Herbig echoed Srebnik, saying that he felt as though completing the EIS process showed consistency.
“Aborting the process right now, in the middle of the EIS [process], is against the council’s word from a year ago, and is not really how we build trust as a council when it comes to policy making,” he said. “I feel that we owe it to many of the stakeholders…to honor that commitment, finish the EIS and then evaluate from there how we’re going to move forward. I’m not voting today to build the fields — I have not made a decision on the field situation. I’m looking forward to the EIS to inform that decision.”
Ultimately, Curtis made a motion to go with option three — stopping the project — which Councilmember Corina Pfeil seconded. Councilmembers Marshall and Melanie O’Cain also supported the decision.