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Posts Tagged ‘McEuen Park’

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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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: Tubbs Hill.

Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of the Team McEuen design is that a number of proposed features impact Tubbs Hill. The designers have proposed an accessible trail across the north face of Tubbs Hill, enhanced trailheads with structures and water features, an observation platform, and a sledding hill. The designers have explained that the Tubbs features help the designers with their charge to provide the “greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons.”

The Tubbs Hill Foundation, an influential advisory group that keeps a watchful eye over the City’s natural masterpiece, issued a statement last month(pdf) regarding the McEuen Park plans re-emphasizing their desire to preserve Tubbs Hill in its natural state. Specifically, the Foundation opposed paving of Tubbs Hill trails, and it opposed “constructed elements” on Tubbs Hill, specifically itemizing the trailheads, an observation platform, water features, and the sledding hill. The Foundation says such elements are inconsistent with the long-standing management plan which states, “Tubbs Hill, a city park, shall be managed to provide for people’s use and enjoyment while maintaining the natural setting that provides this outdoor experience.”

In sum, we agree. In fact, for a variety of good reasons, the scope of the McEuen proposal should stop at the base of Tubbs Hill.

1. Visual integrity — A major concern is that the proposal sacrifices the visual integrity of the beautiful green backdrop that Tubbs Hill gives to McEuen Park. The proposed improvements would be visible from McEuen and the rest of the City of Coeur d’Alene, and would scar the otherwise natural forested hillside. The natural character of the McEuen-facing hillside should remain undisturbed to the extent possible.

2. Construction impacts and permanent disturbance — The construction impacts and disturbance created by opening the forest canopy for the proposed features are likely to invite more difficulty with invasive species. Moreover, the necessity for grading and heavier equipment for construction will likely have impacts on the stormwater, erosion and will likely boost nutrient inputs to the Lake. Such hillside development would be legally and environmentally problematic for a private developer on private property. Such development should not be excused and allowed to occur on City lands.

3. Sledding Hill — We are concerned that the clearance of trees for construction of a sledding hill in the winter months would leave a permanent scar on the hillside in non-winter months. There are better and more organic locations for sledding than Tubbs Hill.

4. Faux features — The Team McEuen proposal makes the unfortunate choice to suggest manmade waterfalls and gardens to greet Tubbs Hill visitors at the trailheads. Indeed, such a design decision misses the fundamental reasoning behind the fierce protection of Tubbs Hill as a natural area. Manmade aesthetic enhancement is simply unnecessary on Tubbs Hill.

5. Accessibility –We appreciate the desire to make the Tubbs Hill experience accessible to people of all abilities, but such accessibility should probably be part of an overall strategy for Tubbs Hill, not McEuen Park. The ADA 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 without significant construction activity and harm to the visual experience. There is an exemption to the accessibility guidelines only if compliance would “cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics.” Arguably such an exception exists in this instance. However, we suggest that Tubbs Hill accessibility is a problem separate and apart from McEuen Park, and should be considered in a different planning process.

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