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Proposed changes to Big Finn Hill Park spark community conversations
Within the 220 acres that is the Big Finn Hill Park off Juanita Drive, a grass field lies at the center of a proposed million dollar project.
The field, which is primarily used by soccer and lacrosse teams in the fall and spring, is in dire need of improvements to be useful. It fills with mud and water after the typically wet winters, making it almost impossible to play on in the spring.
"The site has a lot of cancelations," said King County Parks Director Kevin Brown. "There is a seriously deficit of fields for lacrosse and soccer. We can never meet demand."
Big Finn Hill Park continues to be operated by King County, despite the area being annexed into Kirkland just last month. Currently, the county has a proposal from the Kirkland Youth Lacrosse organization to replace the field with a turf surface and to turn it into a multi-use field that can be used for soccer and lacrosse. The organization targeted the Big Finn Hill Park because it has a field which isn't being used to it's full potential, but also because there aren't many other options for lacrosse teams.
"There's a real pressing need for field space," said Kirkland Youth Lacrosse president Steve Lytle. Two years ago when the club started there were 34 players. This season 182 turned out, and next year it's expected over 250 will want to play. Lytle said they've worked with the Lake Washington School District and Kirkland Parks, but because there simply aren't many fields in the area, it's hard to get time and space. Lytle said many of their teams sometimes have to use partial fields when other teams are practicing, like sharing half a soccer field, or working on the edges of baseball fields, but that just doesn't work as a long term solution. Without a solution to the field issue, they may have to turn kids away.
But despite having worked with the county for the last year on the proposal, there are concerns from the neighbors of the park about the project.
Kirkland Youth Lacrosse has proposed a $1.5 million project at the park which would create a new synthetic turf field with lights and a perimeter fence. A small field house would also be built to be used for storage.
Lytle said the field's drainage in the early spring and late fall is so bad that kids were literally getting stuck in the mud, making it almost impossible to hold games or practices at the field.
Brown said the county has been slowly converting fields in the various county parks to turf as they can. He said they have a preliminary design from the Kirkland Youth Lacrosse, but no permits have been submitted for the project.
Despite being in a public, regional park, Kirkland Youth Lacrosse has all the funding in place for the project, including a $150,000 grant from the state capital fund which was secured by Sen. Andy Hill, who represents Kirkland. Because the funding is already in place, no tax payer money is required to complete the project.
The lacrosse season runs February through May, but Lytle said the organization may use the fields for camps in the summer and other off season events, while ensuring the field is also available to local soccer teams and other groups. The field, when not in use by teams, would be open for the public.
Big Finn Hill Park lies in the Finn Hill neighborhood of Kirkland, just south of St. Edward State Park. Many of the families who live near Big Finn Hill Park have resided there for years. While the baseball fields are the current biggest sporting attraction to the park, the addition of a new lacrosse and soccer field have some neighbors worried.
Chiefly among those concerns are the lights, as well as the extended use of the park.
Alberta Allen, who has lived for 20 years adjacent to the park, specifically near the baseball fields, said she came to a neighborhood meeting on June 20 to learn more and get information about the project. She said she has some concerns about the noise and lighting, but came away impressed with Lytle's presentation.
"Steve Lytle did an excellent job of explaining the project and what they are looking for and he has been very receptive to the neighbors about trying to address the concerns," said Allen.
She said the three biggest concerns she's heard is about the lights, the extension of park hours, until likely 10 p.m. and how that might increase the noise. She said the neighbors have fought for years to not have lights at the baseball fields, and have largely succeeded, and while the county says they won't be adding baseball lights, Allen understands if lights are in fact built for the lacrosse field, there is no guarantee they won't be added to baseball. The issue with the lights, Allen said, is that many of the trees between the fields and homes are deciduous and not evergreen, meaning in the winter, light can easily spill through.
"Then there are the problems with more people," she said of the possibility of increased noise. "The tree buffer is a big thing."
Lytle said there is a 600 foot tree buffer between the field and the closest houses, which will help lower the impact of lights and noise to the neighbors during games. He said they've already worked with neighbors on some of the noise concerns, like horns and whistles. Lytle said they will not use substitution horns during games, which will make the games roughly the same noise level as soccer, which already competes there. There are also no plans to build a loud speaker system with the field, nor, at this time, a scoreboard.
"With people there every day of the week and the noise impact of that, there are concerns," said Allen. "Who wants to listen to whistles and such until 10 p.m. at night?"
Brown said, concerning the lights, new technology has increased significantly since the parks master plan was last completed in 1994.
"The technology allows for limited spillage," he said of lights. He pointed to the recently completed athletic fields and park in Preston, where the same concerns were voiced prior to the project. Brown said it's been highly successful.
With the longer hours and higher usage of the park, some are concerned about traffic and influx of people. While many who live in the park consider it to be a day use park, Brown said, park use follows improvements, a policy consistent with other parks in the county.
"There have been concerns about use of the park, because it's anticipated that park use could go up," said Brown. "It's a regional park, so it's always been for more than just Kirkland."
Despite her concerns, Allen said she hopes everyone is willing to work together, realizing that it is a regional park, and not just their own backyards.
"I spoke up and talked (at the meeting) because I didn't want anyone to get the impression that we're against sports or having fields for kids," she said. "We have to have compromise. I would rather have a say in it, then be stubborn and not get a say at all. I hope the lacrosse people realize we're not against sports and have the respect that if this was in their backyard they would have the same concerns. We just need to be open and receptive."
If the plan was to move forward without any major delays, construction would take about 90 days from beginning to end, Lytle said.
"Our goal is to have it up and running Jan. 1," he said. "But there are still a bunch of big milestones to get through first."
Scott Morris, the president of the Denny Creek Neighborhood Association, said his group hasn't taken a position on the project, but wanted to make sure the community had more information. He said they were glad to see the group organized community meetings for discussions.
"One of the things we're looking into is getting a better understanding of the approval process because it's a little unclear. We want a little more clarity so citizens can understand," said Morris.
Brown said it's possible the project would be in the permitting phase later this summer. Due to the recent annexation of the area, despite the park being operated by King County, Lytle said they are in the process of figuring out what is going to be required by the City of Kirkland.
Bill Finkbeiner, a Kirkland resident who has been working with the project said, if the project isn't ready by next season, it will mean changes for the program.
"If we don't have it by next season, we'll have to turn kids away," he said.
Brown said back in 1994 when the park's master plan was completed, lacrosse wasn't even apart of the thought process.
"Times have changed," he said. "Lacrosse is a growing sport and it wasn't even on the radar in 1994."
Whether or not the project is approved, there is no denying the use of athletic fields by teams in Kirkland will continue to grow. It is simply a matter of where those teams will find the space to practice and play games.