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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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