Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has nixed a plan to sell surplus property along Myers Way South near White Center.
Bowing to objections from green-space advocates and neighbors, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has nixed a plan to sell leafy surplus property near White Center to help pay for homelessness relief. The land instead will be retained for future park use.
In November, when the mayor proclaimed a state of emergency over homelessness and committed $5 million in one-time funding to address the crisis, Murray said the city would sell part of its property on Myers Way South to foot the bill.
But City Council approval is required before the city disposes of property, and in the months after the mayor’s announcement, environmental and community groups spoke up, asking him not to jettison a dozen acres of the unused and fenced-off stretch.
Murray agreed this week, citing that advice and saying Seattle Parks and Recreation will hold on to the site until money is available to repurpose it for public access.
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“The community was pretty intent that there was a need to preserve that for open space,” he said Thursday. “In a city that’s growing, there are challenges for more natural areas, for more ballfields. So we took another look at it and decided not to sell.”
Murray said a source of funds to cover homelessness costs will be identified in the budget he proposes in September.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, whose District 1 includes the property and who worked to raise awareness about the proposed sale, called Murray’s reversal “a significant and important victory for the community.”
Herbold said the episode shows how important it is for city leaders to solicit comment from neighbors before decisions are made.
There are several reasons why people opposed the sale, said Paulina Lopez, who lives and works in nearby South Park.
Squeezed between warehouses, highways and an industrial waterway, South Park has the worst air pollution in the region, less park space than other Seattle neighborhoods, and it sits along the Lower Duwamish Superfund site, Lopez said.
Trees on the Myers Way South property scrub pollution from the air, she said. Turning part of the stretch into a site for a warehouse or another business involving trucks would exacerbate the problem. And because the land includes a creek that flows into the Duwamish Waterway, it could complicate Superfund cleanup, Lopez said.
“We don’t have a lot of open space, so to see that wonderful opportunity we were about to lose was very sad,” she said. “It was something we didn’t want to see.”
The wooded property, which includes steep slopes and wetlands, and part of which was once a gravel mine, is one of the largest undeveloped areas that Seattle owns.
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The city bought 50 acres on Myers Way South from Nintendo in 2003 and built a new Joint Training Facility for its fire and public-utilities departments on a portion of the land.
The remaining property was to be sold to Lowe’s in 2005, but that deal fell through in 2006. During the recession, the city made no effort to market the site.
Mary Fleck, co-director of the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition, said various animals live in the trees and grassland. Her group organized against the proposed sale.
“There are surplus pockets of land all around the city that people don’t know about, and the city has been selling them off without a lot of notice,” Fleck said.
Though Lopez lives nearby, she didn’t realize how large and lush the property was until a recent tour, she said. She said she’d like the city to make the area an environmental-learning and gardening center for children.
Magnolia has Discovery Park and West Seattle has Lincoln Park. What about a sprawling space for South Park and White Center?
“It’s huge. It’s green. It has lots of trees, lots of birds,” Lopez said. “I visited with my little one, and he was running around.”
Sili Savusa, executive director of the White Center Community Development Association, said her concern was making sure officials heard from White Center, including the area’s immigrant and refugee populations. She called Murray’s about-face a pleasant surprise.
Herbold said she believes the city should use proceeds from selling the Pacific Place parking garage to cover homelessness costs.
The mayor has proposed using the garage-sale proceeds to help pay for a new, $160 million North Precinct police station. But critics of that plan, including some council members, say the station’s price tag is too large.