The Metropolitan King County Council on Tuesday voted to acquire City Hall Park from the city of Seattle, the first step in an uncertain plan to address crime and homelessness in the downtown park.
At the same time, the County Council rejected an amendment that would guarantee the park remains a park in perpetuity, fueling concerns that it could be subject to some sort of redevelopment.
The legislation grants the county’s approval to a land swap, arranged by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and County Executive Dow Constantine, that would move the half-acre park under county control, while 13 smaller properties scattered around Seattle would move to city control.
The Seattle City Council still must approve the deal. It is likely to consider it early next year.
The park, which has been closed since August after residents of a large homeless encampment moved to other shelters, has seen years of problems that peaked over the summer, when it was the site of a fatal stabbing and several assaults.
The county’s plans for the park are unclear. But supporters of taking control of it were adamant that the time had come.
“The city of Seattle does not want to keep the park any longer,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“The city of Seattle struck out, they blew their chance, again and again,” Councilmember Reagan Dunn, the other co-sponsor said.
More than 50 King County judges, who work in the courthouse abutting the park, had urged the county to take it over amid public safety issues in the area.
A report on future options for the park is due to the County Council by Jan. 15.
Opponents pushed to hold off on the takeover until that report is delivered, contending it was foolhardy to take on responsibility for the park without a clear direction forward.
A coalition of downtown and homelessness groups — the Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Chief Seattle Club and Real Change — has opposed the process, describing it as rushed.
“It is a transaction in anticipation of something else and for some of us, we want to know what that something else is before we approve of the transaction,” Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said. Zahilay and Councilmember Joe McDermott were the two votes against acquiring the park, which passed by a 7-2 vote.
McDermott proposed two amendments. One requiring a public engagement process before any changes are made to the park was approved. But the second, which would have codified the park as a park, preventing any future changes, was rejected.
“The county’s intentions around City Hall Park have been murky at best,” said Beth Purcell, a board member of the nonprofit Seattle Parks Foundation. “We ask you to clarify that it will be kept as a park in perpetuity.”
The council declined, citing concerns that codifying the land as a park could tie its hands in unforeseen ways. Some cited the county courthouse’s closed south entrance, which opens onto the park, as a possible site of future changes.
“I don’t like the thought of being so rigid that we would potentially leave off some options,” Kohl-Welles said.