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Kirkland residents disagree on what city should do with proposed park land | Map
Many residents of the Garden Gate neighborhood want a nearby one-acre piece of land turned into a small children’s public park, but others in the surrounding neighborhood say that opening up the enclosed space may subject the site to criminal activity.
Funds for the potential park face an August 2013 looming deadline and it is this cutoff-point that has prompted the Garden Gate Homeowners Association (HOA) to take action.
"We were told the developer had set aside money (with the City of Kirkland) for the development of the open space, which would become a park," said HOA president Isaac Roybal. “The homes were sold with the promise of a park as a value proposition.”
Seventeen fenced homes keep unruly Himalayan blackberry bushes at bay as they make up the perimeter of the open space in a north Juanita neighborhood. Four Garden Gate homes abut the “Pharaoh’s Head” property to the north, while 13 other homes encompass it.
View North Juanita Open Space in a larger map
The city-owned land is just east of Juanita High School and south of Fire Station 27. It is home to squirrels and other wildlife.
But a resident of one of the 13 homes, Jim Jeffrey, said less than one year ago his cul-de-sac was “invaded” by cars that met drug dealers who would walk through a gate that led to Hamilton Square, a nearby townhouse complex, which connected to the Juanita Park and Ride.
“They conducted their business and then made a quick getaway back out to Northeast 128th and the I-405 freeway,” said Jeffrey, who is worried a park could turn the enclosed space into a site for drug trafficking. “It was a drug spot where Cadillac Escalades and young girls and boys would go. (It was) an open air drug market.”
The Kirkland Police Department and the Hamilton Square residents’ association worked together to permanently close the gate at the end of 113th Place Northeast and Jeffrey said illegal drug activity significantly decreased.
Also, two months ago Jeffrey said he was approached by a broadcast news reporter in search of a man who had allegedly murdered his wife in Tacoma. The suspect’s car was abandoned on a nearby street and the anchor from the news outlet thought he might be hiding in the space.
He was supposedly running from police on foot.
Jeffrey let the camera crew into his house to view the scene but was “delighted to hear them all agree that nobody could get through that area on foot or any other way.”
“The camera crew … agreed with me that it would be pretty difficult for someone to negotiate the area in back of my yard with its blackberry bushes,” Jeffrey said.
So, when Jeffrey received a letter from the City of Kirkland on Oct. 12 inviting residents to attend a Juanita Neighborhood Association public meeting to discuss improvement for the space, he was outraged. Jeffrey promptly wrote his own letter and distributed about 100 copies to neighbors in both neighborhoods explaining his opposition.
Resident Donald Bartleson also created a petition with 23 collected signatures of people opposing the construction of a park.
“They need to let go of this little park,” said Candice Bartleson, Donald’s wife.
Neighbors wrote to the city to explain they were concerned about how the park would affect their privacy, how it could affect wildlife and whether traffic would increase.
“Clearing this area out will make it available to undesirable visitors and will leave homeowners vulnerable,” said Mary Charlton in an Oct. 23 email to the city.
Teresa Lupinacci said she was concerned how Kirkland police would be able to patrol the potential park surrounded by houses and with only two entrances.
“I wonder how many times this needs to be discussed before the city catches on to the concerns of the neighborhood,” Lupinacci said.
This is not the first time interested parties proposed park development, nor is it the first time the idea has been met with resistance.
About 10 years ago, the Juanita Neighborhood Association sought to develop the site through grant funding but after they were met with localized opposition, they decided against it.
Then, in 2008, Sundquist Homes developed the 24 houses known as the Garden Gate neighborhood and homeowners, like Roybal, were supposedly told there would be a park just past the end of their cul-de-sac.
“I’m confident that our sales team would not promise a park,” said Sundquist Homes senior vice president Bob Vick. “We were aware that acre was to be designated for a park.”
The idea of a park stemmed from a trade the developer, Sundquist Homes, made with the city, which allowed them to forgo a sidewalk on one side of the street if they gave the city $43,000 for future development of a park in the open space. The developer laid down one sidewalk to the west, which leads directly into the open space, as if one day there would be an entrance to a neighborhood park.
“I don’t think that our expectation (is) to have the money reverted,” said Vick of the 2013 deadline.
The city’s only requirement is to use the money on a public works project for improvement in the “general area of Juanita,” not necessarily for this particular site, although that would be the city’s first priority, according to Parks and Community Services Deputy Director Michael Cogle.
“Our plan would be to hold a meeting with interested residents in the area that would like to tell us more on their thoughts and consult with the Parks Department with the goal of making that decision,” Cogle said. “We certainly want to learn more from the residents and the police department on the criminal activity.”
And so does the HOA.
“If those crimes are happening today, without the park, how can we work with (residents) to fix it?” said Roybal, who pointed out police have a heavy presence at Fire Station 27. “Drug-free zones have double penalties. There are multiple safety measures, but we can still do more if needed … We still want to solve this drug problem if a park is not put in place.”
Within the last five months, crimemapping.com indicates a couple of assaults around the neighborhood, some car break-ins, drug violations, DUI’s and vehicle thefts in the Park and Ride area, with some burglaries on N.E. 132nd St. and N.E. 128th St. that sandwich the neighborhoods.
Many children from the Garden Gate neighborhood often play in the street and when commuters don’t realize it’s a dead-end street, they turn around and speed out. Roybal said many parents are on edge because of it.
The park would fulfill the city’s Park Plan, which identifies this part of Juanita as in need of a neighborhood park. The “level of service” goal is for a park to exist within a quarter-mile radius of each residence.
But the $43,000 the city could use wouldn’t do much but clear out the blackberry bushes. The HOA recognizes there would need to be outside help, and they want to be involved.
“It’s not a full-fledged million dollar park,” said Garden Gate resident Mansoor Jafry. “I think the word ‘park’ is sending the wrong message.”
If the park was built, the HOA says they do not intend to remove any trees. Because privacy is a big issue, the HOA hopes the money will stretch so “privacy trees” may be planted.
The hope is the park would be for the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and for this reason, HOA secretary Steve Guidi isn’t concerned about extra traffic.
The HOA states that 20 of their 24 homes in Garden Gate support the project proposal, which has goals to clear out the space, maintain privacy and keep a safe environment.
“… In general I think adding parks curbs – not encourages – drug activity,” said Hamilton Square townhouse resident Elizabeth Apple in an email to the city.
Although neither neighborhood has reached a decision, some members of the Parks Board and the Kirkland Police Department will be meeting in December to discuss the issue of crime, but plan to take up the issue with residents again in January.
(Top) North Juanita residents (left to right) Jim Jeffrey, Candice Bartleson and Beverly Fredrickson oppose a public park that some want the city to develop next to their homes. They are concerned the park would bring potential criminal activity near their homes. Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter
(Bottom) Garden Gate Homeowner’s Association secretary Steve Guidi (left), HOA president Isaac Roybal (center) and Garden Gate resident Mansor Jafry stand in front of the entrance to the proposed park. They say a park would offer children a safe place to play. Raechel Dawson, Kirkland Reporter