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Archive for January, 2011

In his remarks that prefaced the January 6th design presentation on McEuen Park, Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood declared the city’s intent to make McEuen a “placemaking park for Coeur d’Alene.”   His use of the term “placemaking” is significant, and it helps to understand the reasoning behind some of the design choices proposed by Team McEuen.

Those in attendance at the overflow meeting saw an impressive presentation of how the venerable downtown park could be transformed. The current park’s boat launch, baseball fields, and parking lot would be eliminated and replaced by a plaza, gardens, water features, and a range of new amenities. The new design was eye-opening, if perhaps over-ambitious. The placemaking goal, however, was front-and-center.

In truth, “placemaking” is a word somewhere between jargon and an actual term of art. But like the term “sustainability,” while the definition can be a bit vague, a general direction is usually clear. Placemaking is a term used by planners and architects for more holistic, integrated designs of space. Rather than building just buildings, or engineering only highways, or constructing look-alike subdivisions, modern designers now include parks, complete streets, landscapes and greenspaces to create a more integrated whole.

Placemaking looks beyond just the engineering of specific uses and structures, but also looks to social factors, physical and visual linkages, and values such as safety and comfort and image, which are not necessarily tied to a specific land use. Placemaking recognizes that parks, public squares, streetscapes, and waterfronts can be more valuable than merely their collection of uses. A park, for example, is more than just somewhere where recreation occurs.

Urban public parks are increasingly the laboratory for placemaking. Millennium Park in Chicago and Discovery Green Park in Houston are recent examples of successful park designs that are attracting visitors and reinvestment that would not have occurred otherwise.

The placemaking approach was evident in the proposed design for McEuen Park. The current conglomeration of disparate single uses – boating, baseball, parking – would be replaced by a much wider range of integrated potential uses, both active and passive, that would make the park a much more welcoming and comfortable place for a much wider variety of visitors. But very importantly, the McEuen design provides much greater visual and physical connectivity to the Lake, which is central to the very identity of Coeur d’Alene.

Although we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to parking, and we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to Tubbs Hill, we are in general agreement that McEuen Park is a location with great potential, and that placemaking is an appropriate design approach for this important location.

The fact than nearly 600 people turned out on a cold January night to consider plans for a city park, shows the value to the community. The details are extremely important, and costs are very much a concern, but the opportunity should not be lost to the nattering of naysayers and defenders of the status quo.

Coeur d’Alene has a unique opportunity to create park that will not only enhance the value of park property as a park, but that also makes it clear why this place, Coeur d’Alene, is such a special place to be.

This article is adapted from one published in our quarterly newsletter. Join KEA for a subscription.

 

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Although construction on the Fernan Road reconstruction project was completed this past fall, the paperwork was wrapped up just recently.  Recall that KEA and Idaho Conservation League had threatened a Clean Water Act lawsuit regarding numerous violations at the construction site.  An agreement was finalized recently with the Federal Highway Administration, the agency responsible for the project, to resolve the claims.

Fernan Violation -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

At KEA, we were tipped off to problems at the site by members and neighbors living along Fernan Lake. KEA and ICL performed our own inspections at least five times in 2009 which indicated potential violations of the project’s construction permit. In July 2009, Idaho DEQ inspected the site and issued a warning letter to FHWA regarding violations of water quality standards for turbidity.

As a result of direct negotiations between our attorneys at Gonzaga Environmental Law Clinic and the Federal Highway Administration, major improvements to the project were installed in 2010 to prevent massive erosion and sediment problems our investigation had identified. At ICL and KEA’s request, FHWA hired a certified erosion control specialist to review and improve erosion controls at the site. FHWA implemented best management practices, and trained their contractors and personnel on monitoring and reporting practices and preventing discharges. FHWA also updated its stormwater prevention plan to tighten controls on discharges.

By all accounts, the project in 2010 was greatly improved over the project in 2009. Thanks to our lawyers and our erosion expert and our environmental colleagues. We are pleased to have made a difference.

 

 

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Those in attendance at an overflow meeting January 6th saw an impressive presentation of how the venerable McEuen Park in downtown Coeur d’Alene could be transformed. Under preliminary plans, the current park’s boat launch, baseball fields, and parking lot would be eliminated and replaced by a plaza, gardens, water features, and a range of new amenities.

Although we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to parking, and we have serious concerns with the proposal’s approach to Tubbs Hill, we are in general agreement that McEuen Park is an extraordinary location with truly great potential, and we do think a world class design should go in this important location.

Join us at the January 20th KEA Noon Meeting at the Iron Horse Restaurant in downtown Coeur d’Alene, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm.  Doug Eastwood, Parks Director for the City of Coeur d’Alene, and other McEuen Park Steering Committee members will present on the proposed plans for this park.

The fact than nearly 600 people turned out on a cold January night to consider plans for a city park, shows the value to the community. The details are extremely important, and costs are very much a concern, but this opportunity should not be lost to the nattering of naysayers and defenders of the status quo.

The City has asked for public comment, and they are getting boat loads of it.  Make sure your voice is among those it will consider. A simple and easy survey is on the Team McEuen website – click over there and give your opinions.

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance has a very busy land use program, but as a general rule, we don’t weigh in on subdivision applications in Kootenai County. Mostly because we’re a small busy non-profit – there are only so many battles we can fight.

The main reason for drawing the line at subdivisions is that under current county code (the subdivision ordinance — a very large pdf), subdivisions are almost always approved. If the proposal simply meets a checklist of requirements, and it is no more dense than the underlying zoning would allow, the subdivision is probably going to be approved. We’ve certainly thought that the subdivision regulations should be tightened, but until that occurs (perhaps now that the comprehensive plan is done, it could happen soon), we’ve generally avoided the usually-losing battles over individual subdivisions.

So it was with some astonishment that local attorney Scott Reed proudly brought to our attention the case of the Hemlock Hills subdivision, rejected last week by a Kootenai County hearing examiner.  In what he called a “delightful surprise,” Scott Reed pointed out that the opposition to the 34-lot subdivision above Hayden Lake was simply a collection of concerned residents, whose testimony clearly and simply highlighted the fatal faults in the subdivision application. All too often, testimony by non-professionals is criticized and discounted by the applicant’s paid professionals, as if an engineer’s seal, or advanced degree should be a prerequisite to stating otherwise obvious facts in a County land use hearing. But the non-professional residents simply went through the subdivision checklist and testified as to where the application fell short.

In this instance, the hearing examiner followed the testimony of the opponents and took note that the project places the development on very steep slopes. All the lots were located on slopes in excess of 15%, with more than a third of the lots on slopes in excess of 35%. The hearing examiner pointed out problems with erodible soils, roadway construction, setbacks, stormwater, the water table, and a failure to provide sufficient information about traffic mitigation. Indeed, the hearing examiner stated flatly, “The subdivision has not been demonstrated to create lots of reasonable utility and livability, capable of being built upon without imposing an unreasonable burden on future owners.”

From the hearing examiner’s opinion, it seems utterly obvious that this subdivision shouldn’t be built. But sometimes, with all the engineers and lawyers and “design professionals” purchased by the developer and involved in a typical land use hearing, it takes neighbors and citizens to stand up and state the obvious. Our congratulations to them.

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For all of our friends and members who wrote a letter, sent an email, or signed a petition, here’s some moderately good news from Boise. Even though, by all accounts, it is a tough budget year for Idaho, Governor Otter has allocated full funding in his budget for water quality monitoring. Our friends at Idaho Conservation League who have been monitoring the monitoring issue from their offices near the capitol, say that the Governor recommended funding for water quality monitoring in the full amount of $349,000.

However, Otter is proposing to use money from the water pollution control account – an account where DEQ banks revolving funds for drinking water and wastewater facility loans and grants. Typically, the state uses this fund to provide the match to federal funds for these important projects.

Although the DEQ account apparently has a balance sufficient to use on water quality monitoring this year, it is not a long-term solution. As our local municipalities look for help in funding very costly wastewater projects to clean up the Spokane River, for example, taking money from the revolving account for monitoring may prove to be funding one critical water quality program at the expense of another. Unfortunately, the state may be in the same position next year unless additional funding is identified.

In any event, the next step in the budget process will be to get the legislature’s important JFAC (Joint Finance Appropriations Committee) to approve the funding. We will keep you up to date.

 

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We’ve invited Nick Snyder, Director of Kootenai County Parks & Waterways to join us at our regular meeting at the Iron Horse Restaurant (Noon on Thursday, January 6th) to talk about the Spokane River / Cougar Bay piling removal project.

Cougar Bay and Spokane River watchers will have noticed that the pilings along the Spokane River and outside the mouth of Cougar Bay have vanished. This past summer the Idaho Department of Lands granted Kootenai County the authority to remove all hazardous log pilings and booms from the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene. The County made quick work of removing a lot of pilings this fall. Also, last summer, an encroachment permit was approved by the Department of Lands authorizing Kootenai County Parks and Waterways to install fifteen buoys to designate Cougar Bay as a “no-wake” zone and three mooring buoys within that zone. Meanwhile, a lawsuit brought by the Osprey Association is pending regarding the Department of Lands denial of their permit application to preserve the pilings.

So what’s next?  This meeting, we think, will be a great opportunity to discuss these and other issues relating to Cougar Bay with the person who currently has the power to make things happen. Or make things not happen, as we might prefer.

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So, the grand plans for McEuen Park will be rolled out to the public at a meeting at North Idaho College Thursday evening (Student Union Building, Coeur d’Alene Room, 6pm). We will be acutely interested to see how the plans will be received.

The controversial proposal eliminates most of the surface parking area and boat launch, eliminates the ball fields, and may be expensive to build and maintain. But the proposal has some striking design features and makes the park much more functional and user-friendly. Indeed, based on our preliminary review of sketches on Team McEuen’s website, there’s much to like, there’s much that could be better, and there’s a lot to be to be concerned about too.

For example, on the one hand, we are quite glad to see the proposal largely eliminates the ugly and wasteful surface parking lot. On the other hand, the replacement underground parking seems to be significantly over-supplied and it will be expensive to implement. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for both the park and downtown businesses to relocate the lost parking into some of the other vacant land around downtown? Wouldn’t that create more opportunities for redevelopment and foot-traffic in downtown?

We are also very concerned with the impacts on Tubbs Hill. There are a number of features that encroach upon the natural integrity of Coeur d’Alene’s significant and fiercely-protected natural landmark. Although we agree that McEuen Park could use a serious facelift, Tubbs Hill needs no enhancement and should be left alone. Rather than the design team attempting to accommodate the Park by expanding features into Tubbs Hill, we think Tubbs Hill’s clear natural boundaries should be accommodated by the Park’s design.

At the moment, we’re mostly agnostic about the boat ramp and the ball fields. One of the guiding principles of the design, supposedly, is that any amenities removed from McEuen will be relocated elsewhere to be at least as good or better. We’re open to what they will suggest. And we’re agnostic as to some of the more elaborate design flourishes. We think much will depend on how much the new park will cost to build and maintain. The burden of persuasion clearly belongs to Team McEuen, but we are hoping to be persuaded.

With a lot of people with a lot of interest in a lot of topics related to the re-design, Team McEuen will be challenged to provide for public input opportunities that the public will demand. The web page is nice, and the facebook page is engaging, but some formalized process, we think, will be necessary. We’d also like to see some supporting narrative accompanying the proposal, and some images large enough to more fully understand the details.

At this point, we look forward to the discussion. See you there Thursday night?

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