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Posts Tagged ‘McEuen Park’

As Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro III notoriously said of being Mayor, “You come in in the morning and they bring you a big plate of [crap] to eat. So you grit your teeth and just when you get finished … they’re at the door with a bigger plate of [crap].”

Coeur d’Alene is decidedly not Baltimore of the late 1960s, but still, being Mayor is not an easy job.

This week, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem will give her perspectives on what’s going on in her fine city.  For better or worse, a lot of what has been on Mayor Bloem’s mind lately has been on our mind too: the Dike Road Trees, McEuen Park, Tubbs Hill, and the Spokane River. City Council candidates at the KEA forum a few weeks ago got to give their candidate perspectives.

The non-candidate Mayor may provide some different perspectives.

In any event, Mayor Bloem is always a gracious and engaging speaker, and we’re happy to have her speak at this week’s Lunch and Learn. As always, noon, 1st and 3rd Thursdays, at the Iron Horse on Sherman.

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There’s simply not a travel destination in the world where the most memorable feature is plenty of free parking.  A vast expanse of pavement is usually not where you want to be, rather it’s an unfortunate and forgettable layover separating you from your real destination.  Indeed, increasingly, the lack of parking or very expensive parking are considered a reliable indicator that you’re in a great urban place. There’s a “walkability index” calculation available for neighborhoods across the country. Parkability is not an actual thing.

So again this year, with the generous good humor of the City of Coeur d’Alene, KEA will be participating in the annual global Park(ing) Day event calling for a reclamation of parking places for the benefit of people and parks.  We will reclaim a few downtown spaces on Friday to make our point.

PARK(ing) Day at Art Spirit Gallery 2010 - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Admittedly, downtown Coeur d’Alene is probably the most walkable and appealing destination in our entire region. But it’s not because of parking.  In fact, much of the plan for renovating McEuen Park is motivated by removing a dreadful mistake of a parking lot from what is an extraordinary lakeside location.  We’re not exactly fans of the replacement parking plans — we think the replacement parking is still oversupplied, expensive, and incorrectly located — but the controversy itself is perhaps a good sign.  The more we really think about the costs, the more likely we’ll free ourselves from the burden of cheap parking.

 

 

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Tubbs Hill -- July 11, 2011. Photos by KEA BlackberryCam

More about all of this soon enough, but yesterday afternoon we were pleased to take part in a unique event. KEA has been invited to participate in a City of Coeur d’Alene committee reviewing accessibility and other issues on Tubbs Hill. Yesterday, the committee got a first hand experience with accessibility concerns on a brief field trip to the east side of the Hill — and three committee participants in wheelchairs took a first-ever trip to our City’s crown jewel.

Recall that concern over impacts to Tubbs Hill caused the City Council to remove Tubbs Hill from the concept plan for McEuen Park. The Council, however, insisted that the City continue to work with stakeholders on accessibility and management issues on Tubbs Hill. This new committee has met preliminarily a couple of times and has a great deal of work to do. This was the committee’s first fact-finding outing.

But yesterday, the scope of the work — and the reason for doing it — became much more clear and concrete.  On trails most of us have no trouble navigating, wheelchairs have a great deal of difficulty. Relatively gentle uphill slopes, downhill slopes, and cross-trail slopes make travel much more difficult in a wheelchair. The small outcroppings of rocks and tree roots that most of us simply step on or step over can be impassable obstructions to a wheelchair. It’ll be a serious challenge for the committee to find opportunities for access that eliminate the natural barriers of the terrain without damaging the hill or compromising its fiercely-protected natural state.

But Tubbs Hill is an extraordinary place — we saw walkers, joggers, swimmers, dogs, bratty teenagers, tourists, locals, and all manner of people enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings.  Yesterday, it included people in wheelchairs. And there was an appreciation that they belonged there as much as anyone.

 

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Even before the marathon meeting gathered momentum, the Coeur d’Alene City Council agreed unanimously to separate Tubbs Hill from the concept plan for McEuen Park. On a motion by Ron Edinger, seconded and amended by Mike Kennedy, the Council agreed with KEA and the Tubbs Hill Foundation that Tubbs Hill needs to be addressed, but needs to be addressed differently, and in a different process.

The Council’s action recognized that there was a consensus that accessibility concerns needed to be addressed on Tubbs Hill. With Kennedy’s amendment, the issues relating to Tubbs Hill were remanded back to the Parks Department to draft a specific comprehensive management plan to address trail accessibility, public safety, connectivity, forest health, invasive species, and ongoing maintenance. The Department was directed to collaborate with stakeholders including the Tubbs Hill Foundation and the disability community. Kennedy’s amendment also will require a specific report back to the Council with dates and schedules for implementation.

After similar amendments by Edinger to save the boat ramp and baseball field failed, the Council opened the meeting to public comment. Eliminating the Tubbs controversy saved a minimum of six minutes of the marathon four-and-a-half-hour meeting as the Tubbs Hill Foundation and KEA no longer felt a need to testify. At the close of public comment, the Council voted 5-1 to approve the rest of the McEuen proposal.

We think this is precisely the right approach for Tubbs Hill. With the plethora of McEuen Park issues now a separate municipal headache, we can look forward to working with the Parks Department and the other stakeholders to come up with a great plan for the great Tubbs Hill.

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We’ve written a few times about Tubbs Hill and its intersection with the McEuen Park debate. As the concept proposal for McEuen goes to the City Council next week, the issue of Tubbs Hill is likely to be squarely at the forefront of the Council’s consideration.

We’ve spent some time this past week, working with community members, talking to City Council members, and thinking a lot about Tubbs Hill. And we think we’ve discovered a clear, across-the-board, consensus as to what needs to happen. The problem, at this point, is how to make it happen. We’re increasingly of the opinion that considering Tubbs Hill in the McEuen Park context is the wrong approach. Tubbs Hill is different.

Tubbs Hill is no wilderness, but the community’s desire to keep it as natural as possible is remarkably strong. Moreover, the community’s connection to it and sense of pride and ownership in it are strong. While the concept proposal for McEuen Park is an arguably justified exercise in placemaking for Coeur d’Alene, Tubbs Hill is already a place.

Nevertheless, the clear consensus is that Tubbs Hill does need some thoughtful attention. As highlighted in the McEuen discussions, the trail network needs to address a distinct lack of accessibility. But there are other concerns as well – public safety, invasive species, the health of the forest, and how to manage (and finance the management of) the resource that is both wildly popular and naturally beautiful.

But these are issues that are substantially different and essentially independent from the drivers of McEuen Park design. These are issues that can be resolved more quickly, and more comprehensively, if set aside to a separate, collaborative process, that is not tied to the many McEuen projects. Indeed, we’re afraid the unique nature of Tubbs Hill’s problems and solutions will be lost in the noise surrounding the more difficult and expensive projects under the McEuen umbrella.

Everyone with the City of Coeur d’Alene or Team McEuen we’ve contacted agrees that nothing will move forward on Tubbs Hill without a lot of consultation and collaboration, but nobody was able to tell us specifically how that would work in the McEuen Park context. So why not just make it clear? Why not separate Tubbs Hill from the McEuen project, set up a collaborative process, and just get started?

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We were recently cc’ed on a copy of a new letter from the Tubbs Hill Foundation to Mayor Bloem and the Coeur d’Alene City Council regarding the ongoing McEuen Park  discussion. In the April 28 letter signed by Foundation President Peter Luttropp, the Foundation reiterates and clarifies its position on the Tubbs Hill impacts of the McEuen project, particularly the proposed trail on the upper north face of the hill. A previous letter from the Foundation had enumerated opposition to the sledding hill, the artificial water features and other intrusions, but hadn’t specifically addressed the trail. In this letter the Foundation confirms a KEA concern:

Since then, our preliminary research and on-site inspections have convinced us that construction of such a trail, as conceptualized in the McEuen plan, cannot be done without disrupting the natural state of the hill. On that basis, we would oppose such a trail.

The Foundation also goes on to affirm support for disabled access to Tubbs Hill and says:

We reaffirm our willingness and desire to work with the city and others to see that such increased ease of use is developed. We believe there is at least one viable alternative that would provide access for the disabled, access that would be far more desirable aesthetically than the proposed north face trail overlooking McEuen Field. It would also provide a richer experience for those with disabilities who would use it. 

And the Foundation echoes KEA’s strong desire to separate the Tubbs Hill issues, including the accessibility issue,  from the McEuen Park issues:

Providing more user-friendly access to Tubbs Hill is a separate issue from the redesign of McEuen Field and should be resolved in a separate process.

 The letter concludes:

The Foundation supports the vision of Tubbs Hill that is more user friendly for all members of our community while preserving the natural state of the hill. We again express our willingness to be a partner in making that vision a reality.

Count us in on that too. We think the Foundation’s position on Tubbs Hill is exactly correct. Regardless of how the McEuen project proceeds, better access for all, which also protects the natural qualities of Tubbs Hill, is worth working for.

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The estimated costs for McEuen Park were released this morning and, not surprisingly, a huge hunk of the costs for the park are in the parking facility. We still think this is both unfortunate and unnecessary. The total McEuen project costs, according to the released estimates (pdf), range from $23.8 million to $28.0 million.

Although drowned out by noisier complaints about the boat launch (and maybe to a lesser extent Tubbs Hill), the design of the Front Avenue parking facility remains a big gripe of ours. It provides an oversupply of parking, in the wrong location, and in a manner that physically and visually separates downtown from the park and lakefront.  Now that the cost figures have been released, the problems are even more clear.

Team McEuen estimates Front Avenue parking to cost from $7.0 million to $8.3 million and other Front Avenue improvements to cost from $1.2 million to $1.4 million. In other words, Front Avenue and its parking consumes about one third of the cost of the entire project. Moreover, these costs do not include a second below-street  “Centennial Level” of parking, which has been shown on previous Team McEuen illustrations (as shown above). This newly “alternate” lowest level of parking would add another $5.5 million to $6.5 million.

A better, cheaper, and more functional location for downtown and McEuen parking is not under Front Avenue, but on vacant and underutilized properties north of Sherman. Construction and design costs are likely to be much lower, and the more central location would be much better for the future economic development purposes of downtown. We think the investment in improvements to McEuen Park are worth doing, but only if the investments are in the park itself, not a parking facility.

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We were disappointed to see the Coeur d’Alene press editorial today, pitting well-meaning citizens against each other unnecessarily over accessibility to Tubbs Hill. The CDA Press promotes a false choice between accessibility and protecting the natural setting — both values important to our community, but not necessarily competing.

As we wrote previously, we believe the Tubbs Hill experience should be accessible to people of all abilities, but perhaps such accessibility should be part of an overall strategy for Tubbs Hill, not McEuen Park.  The Americans with Disabilities Act — landmark civil rights legislation — requires very specific accessibility design and performance standards for new and substantially improved trails, specifying such things as the trail’s width, slope, surface, headroom, passing room, and obstructions. Such standards will be expensive and difficult to implement on Tubbs Hill in the manner and location suggested by Team McEuen without significant construction activity and risk of harm to the overall visual experience. There are other, and much better, accessibility possibilities for Tubbs Hill worth exploring first.

What was proposed as an after-thought add-on to McEuen renovations should not be used as a wedge in our community. Tubbs Hill accessibility is a problem separate and apart from McEuen Park, and it should be considered in a different planning process — a process, we hope, which can be more inclusive and collaborative than simply picking sides, as the CDA Press would have us do.

 

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: the ball fields and the boat launch.

Other than parking, the loss of the boat launch and the ball fields are the largest changes in use at the new proposal for McEuen Park. For these amenities, Team McEuen’s mission statement to provide the “greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons” is perhaps somewhat in tension with the City’s constraint to “ensure the replacement of any displaced facilities with equal or better facilities.”

While not taking specific positions on the specific proposals for these specific amenities, we believe, generally, that the mission statement needs to be served with clear and convincing evidence, and the constraint needs to be met with concrete plans without a significant gap in service. Only then will Team McEuen’s charge be met.

With respect to the boat launch in particular, KEA has always been at the very forefront of the challenge to acquire more public access to the state’s waterways, particularly Coeur d’Alene Lake.  It is a huge lake with extremely limited access for the general public. This is particularly true for boats, but also for fishing, swimming, and just playing by the shoreline. It is for this reason that any elimination of access, of any use, needs to be accompanied by substantial new opportunities for that use. Merely trading a boating use for a more general-purpose public and aesthetic access at 3rd street is not, in itself, a sufficient trade. That said, the addition of a boat launch at the NIC campus is an intriguing potential solution which deserves consideration. And, clearly, the removal of the parking set aside for the boat-launching use is a huge improvement.

Of course, just as KEA has been at the forefront of access issues on the lake, KEA has also been long concerned with the impacts of shoreline and marina construction. For example, KEA along with fellow regional conservation organizations supplied detailed comments in the permitting process of the renovation of the nearby Blackwell Island marina. Permitting of a new boat launch at the NIC location will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. We will certainly insist that the construction and its use be consistent with sound environmental protection principles. These complications are too easily dismissed at this conceptual level, with the engineering details left to later stages of design. We would urge Team McEuen and the City to provide realistic assessment of these difficulties as part of the decision-making process.

 

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: Parking.

Team McEuen’s approach to parking is quite literal in its adherence to the city-prescribed design principle to “ensure the replacement of any displaced facilities with equal or better facilities.” The team has essentially doubled the parking by place several below-grade levels under Front Street and by expanding the lot by City Hall.

While we are 100% supportive of the removal of the current wasteful and ugly surface parking lot, Team McEuen’s design approach to parking, in our view, is still troublesome. The design is visually problematic and limits pedestrian access to the park. Moreover, we believe the proposed parking is expensive, oversupplied, and in the wrong location for the broader purposes of the City of Coeur d’Alene.

1. Access to the park – The location and structure of the parking facility on Front Street will seriously limit the points of access to the park itself from downtown. Access from downtown will be limited to discrete stairways and bridge structures from the parking facility into the park. Indeed a pedestrian from downtown will need to traverse the parking. The goal of linking downtown to the waterfront is actually impeded by placing the parking structure along and under Front Street. Access, both to and from the park, by crowds for big events like the Fourth of July, is actually going to be impeded by such limited access.  Besides, denser structured parking would be better located on the City Hall side, or better yet, a block or two away in downtown itself.

2. Sightlines from the park toward the city – While much detailed work has been done to enhance and protect the vistas from the park to the water, the parking structure will be seriously to the detriment of the vista from the park toward downtown. Indeed when a visitor looks from the well-appointed park back toward the commercial center of town, the view will be, essentially, a two story wall of parking. While vegetative screening is likely to help somewhat, the distinct and severe structural boundary will remain for all to see.

3. Oversupplied in the wrong location – The emphasis on the parking in Team McEuen’s design has resulted in a dramatic oversupply of parking that will only on the rarest of occasions be used to capacity.  Indeed, the current lots are only rarely at capacity. Moreover, to the extent that the parking capacity is needed for the downtown central business district, it is located at what will be the permanent periphery of downtown, making downtown growth northerly less probable. To the extent that the parking is needed for the park itself, it is at a location which will make pedestrian traffic through the business district much less likely, limiting the purported economic advantages to redeveloping the park. We strongly suggest that the bulk of the parking, and particularly any significant parking structures, be located away from the park, above Sherman Ave.  This will be a much greater benefit to downtown businesses, and will ameliorate the impacts of having a structure on the park’s border.

4. Expensive – Structured parking may be the most expensive feature at McEuen Park, and it would be a bit of a travesty if a large proportion of the funding for the park’s renovation went to parking rather than the park itself. We are not necessarily opposed to structured parking downtown –it could serve a number of important redevelopment purposes – just not at McEuen Park. There are a number of locations north of Sherman Ave. that would make much better locations for a parking facility, and at which the structure could be built much less expensively, or as part of a mixed-use development less dependent on government-arranged financing.

 

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