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News / Northwest

Funder of proposed play area at Seattle nude beach revealed, city plan draws ire

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: May 17, 2024, 8:28am

SEATTLE — After the previously anonymous wealthy donor funding a proposal for a children’s play area at a nude beach park in Seattle was revealed Wednesday, community members voiced their anger at the city as the parks department proposed adding a clothing-recommended part to the beach.

KUOW reported the multimillionaire Stuart Sloan, who owns University Village, was behind the now-scrapped plan to build a playground at Denny Blaine Park, which has been used as an unofficial nude hangout for decades, especially by LGBTQ+ swimmers and sunbathers. Reporting by KUOW showed Sloan, who lives near the park, had a close relationship with the city even before the playground plan.

At a public meeting Thursday, many LGBTQ+ park users expressed anger at the parks department and voiced opposition against a proposed addendum to Seattle Parks and Recreation policy that would designate “zones” in the area. Zone A, closer to the Lake Washington shoreline, would be clothing optional. As park users enter Zone B to the west, which is separated by a parking area, they would be encouraged to wear clothing or a towel.

Community members at the meeting portrayed the zone proposal as caving to the requests of wealthy, contemptuous homeowners. Two parks department rangers were at the meeting, which some attendees said they viewed as an intimidation tactic.

When asked, all but one of the roughly 40 people at Thursday’s meeting said they did not approve of the zone proposal.

The Seattle Parks and Recreation playground project was canceled in December due to opposition from people who viewed the $550,000 plan as a discriminatory attempt to change the way the small, secluded space on Lake Washington has been used for decades, especially by LGBTQ+ people. Thousands of people last year signed a petition against the project, describing the beach as an important space where LGBTQ+ people feel safe, accepted and free.

Sloan’s reported relationship with the city raised eyebrows Thursday, with community members expressing anger about the influence the millionaire appeared to have on city planning due to his seemingly personal qualms about the park.

Sloan’s 31,000-square-foot mansion oversees Lake Washington, and its appraised value is about $21 million. Sloan did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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“You look at all this stuff that’s happened and it’s hard to have good faith toward neighbors when we’ve seen what they’re willing to do,” park user Milo Kusold said at the Thursday meeting.

Community members also expressed concerns about the city’s lack of protection of park users’ comfort — including allowing fully clothed onlookers who photograph or video people at the park.

“I frankly don’t really care that much that two to three neighbors might see some nudity,” parkgoer Aspen Coyle said. “I don’t think the compromise of having Zone B be a request to not be nude is worth it … that puts limits on us.”

Sloan, who runs Sloan Capital Companies, donated $550 to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s campaign in 2021. In July 2023, Deputy Mayor Adiam Emery met Sloan at a Starbucks near his home before he met Sloan at his home soon after, according to KUOW. There, they went over cost numbers for the park before they were made public.

Sloan texted Harrell’s personal cellphone complaining about the park, and a deputy mayor later met with Sloan several times, including at his home, KUOW reported. Sloan, who previously was QFC chairman in the 1980s and bought University Village in 1993, is a longtime philanthropist.

In a statement, city spokesperson Jamie Housen said “it is not uncommon for the mayor or his staff to visit the home of constituents.” Housen also said “no responsive text messages” from Harrell to Sloan were identified.

“For years, many users of the park and neighbors around Denny Blaine Park reached out to both Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Mayor’s Office regarding conditions of safety and cleanliness of the park — a long-standing area of complaint,” Housen wrote. He wrote Sloan was “one of many voices highlighting these issues.”

The idea for play equipment “originated in community requests,” Housen wrote. Anonymous donations to the city are not uncommon, he said, and Harrell was unaware of Sloan being the potential funder.

Seattle Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin has said Sloan did not have a say over what playground option was chosen.

On one instance in 2022, KUOW reported, Sloan rented out Denny Blaine for a dinner party at his home. He told the parks department he wanted a “beautiful serene park as the background.”

Friends of Denny Blaine Park, which comprises neighbors, LGBTQ+ community members and Seattle Parks staff, is working on establishing guidelines for the park by this summer. Next month, the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners will vote on whether to separate Denny Blaine into zones.