Long-delayed Clark County parks get green light

They were put on hold due to economic downturn

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Chinook Park

• Location: Between Northeast 139th and 149th streets. The park is east of Skyview High School and the park could be used as a shortcut to the high school, or nearby Alki and Chinook schools. The park also connects the Whipple Creek Greenway, with Whipple Creek running across the north side of the park.

• Size: 5.4 acres, wooded with wetlands.

Dogwood Park

• Location: On Northeast 124th Avenue, north of 101st Street in Brush Prairie. The park will include two playgrounds with age-specific equipment, picnic tables, benches and an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible walking path.

• Size: 4.9 acres, wooded and grassy.

Development of two county parks delayed by the downturn in the economy will move forward this summer, roughly two years after the projects were placed on hold.

The county has awarded a $908,000 contract to Thompson Bros. Excavating Inc. to build the two parks, which will be known as Chinook and Dogwood parks. The county expects construction to begin in June with completion slated for November.

It’s been a long time coming for the parks. County voters approved the Greater Clark Parks District ballot initiative in 2005 by a paper-thin margin, with only 27 votes propelling the initiative to victory.

Creation of the district came with a big assurance: It would collect money that could be used to develop and maintain 35 new neighborhood and community parks, the sort that are within walking distance of homes and have playgrounds and picnic tables. The county promised a seven-year construction schedule.

Of the parks promised, the county was able to build 25. But when it was time to build Chinook and Dogwood parks in 2011 — along with eight others — the well had run dry. The housing bubble had burst and park impact fees, one-time charges on development, dwindled as a result. The county decided to hold off building new parks and instead used the money to pay down debt.

Officials say moving ahead with the two projects will help realize the county’s goal of having a park within 3 miles of every residence.

“We feel we need to fulfill the commitment that was made to the voters,” Public Works Director Heath Henderson said. “Our hope is to move them forward as quickly as possible.”

How to shore up the necessary cash to pay for those projects once they’re developed is the question moving forward, Henderson said. The county’s budget office has said the real estate excise tax would continue to be needed to pay the county’s debt service on public buildings.

“A lot of this is dependent on development and home sales,” Henderson said. “It’s a shot in the dark how they will come in.”

He said the county’s parks department will have to be careful not to build new parks too fast and ensure there’s enough money for maintenance. The county chose Chinook and Dogwood to be the first of the remaining 10 parks slated for development because they’d already undergone predevelopment. In 2011, the county cleared trees from a cul-de-sac adjacent to Chinook in preparation for the park’s construction.

Residents of the North Salmon Creek Neighborhood Association say they’re happy with how Chinook Park is shaping up, saying it will be a boon to neighbors and local students who use the park as a shortcut on their way to school.

“I was really proud of the communication with the county,” said Steve Rucker, who lives next to the soon-to-be park. “They did a nice job. I am just glad to see it will be park land. It’s the best thing to have for the neighborhood and kids.”

The price tags for the eight additional parks range from $707,000 for Otto Brown Park to $443,000 for Tower Crest Park. The county cautions, however, that those projected costs may actually end up being much less. Together Chinook and Dogwood were projected to cost $300,000 more than what the county will pay Thompson Bros. Excavating Inc.

The county also plans to bundle the projects moving forward to keep costs down, said Scot Brantley, the county’s project manager for the parks. That means future parks will come in twos.

He said how to pay for the parks hasn’t been entirely resolved. The county is working on finding money to pay for future parks projects.

“In the meantime,” Brantley said, “we’re in the war room trying to figure out how to stabilize the park development fund.”