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Volunteers frustrated that Federal Way Council, mayor bypassed input for downtown park
As Federal Way gears up to open its first downtown park, members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission are frustrated that the Council and mayor did not include them in the process.
“The park would have benefitted from a thorough process,” said commission chair Mark Koppang of the $267,000 Town Square Park that is set to open July 12.
The Council began exploring the idea for the park in 2013 but the project was fast-tracked when Mayor Jim Ferrell took office in January, promising voters he would open the park this year.
The Council approved the park — which will take up four acres of the former AMC Theater site — on May 20. Commission members did not get a chance to weigh in on the project until this month.
Koppang said Ferrell and the Council were “certainly in a rush to get something done” and with a hurried process, “we don’t always land on the right way to do it.”
He noted the Council appointed commission members so they could objectively advise the Council and staff on developments such as the Town Square Park.
“They are exposing themselves to direct criticism, without the filter of the commission, who would have looked at the project with impartial eyes,” Koppang added.
City spokesman Chris Carrel said the downtown park was a key element of Ferrell’s campaign that voters embraced.
“Over the previous year, he heard widespread public frustration over the lack of progress in remaking our downtown,” Carrel wrote in an email. “He came into office with the firm belief that the community did not want to wait another year for something to happen downtown.”
He said meeting Ferrell’s pledge to open the park this year required an “accelerated timeframe.”
Carrel noted that ordinarily, a park project would begin with the Parks and Recreation Commission, whose role is “highly valued.”
“If the city had opted to begin at the [commission], however, it likely would’ve added another three to six months, which could’ve ended up pushing the park opening into 2015,” Carrel wrote. “Since the impetus for the park was to spur downtown revitalization and economic development, and to do it this year, the mayor — with the Council’s support — felt strongly that we needed to engage a process that led to a summer 2014 opening.”
Nevertheless, Mike Hoeffel, vice chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the project “still should have come before the commission. We could have still met the time deadline.”
Ferrell and Chief of Staff Brian Wilson did meet with the commission on June 5, when the mayor stated his commitment to work with the commission moving forward.
“It was a good gesture on his part,” Hoeffel said of Ferrell. “This is just the first year and it may take two or three or four years before we get the park to looking really good, so I’m hopeful that we’ll have an opportunity to provide more feedback.”
Some of Hoeffel’s suggestions for the park include putting in more shrubbery near the basketball courts to buffer noise, and installing some lights.
Koppang said Ferrell was “very receptive to some of our input and has since taken steps to see that they are implemented.”