Government officials and citizens behind the effort to obtain the new Smith Cove Park gather together to celebrate the 20-year struggle to the reality on Friday, May 31. Photo by Don Wilson/Port of Seattle
Government officials and citizens behind the effort to obtain the new Smith Cove Park gather together to celebrate the 20-year struggle to the reality on
Friday, May 31. Photo by Don Wilson/Port of Seattle
There was high praise, handshakes and history-making as city, county and Port of Seattle officials met with the community last Friday, May 31, at Smith Cove to celebrate a land sale to create a new park there.

The Port sale of the piece of property known as the West Yard, east of the city-owned playfields, has resulted in a joint-use agreement between city and county, who will share use of the property just below the Magnolia Bridge. The county will have a Combined Sewer Outlet (CSO) facility on the northwest corner, and the city will, in time, develop the remaining land as a public park. This is in addition to the city-owned ballfields across the way.

Accommodating two uses
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, a Magnolia resident, spoke about the history that brought the crowd of about 60 together — from 1852, when Dr. Henry A. Smith landed on the shores and staked the first Magnolia claim at Smith Cove, to the Port’s acquisition of the land for railroads.

In World War II, the Navy seized the shoreline property for a strategic supply depot, using it through the Korean War and finally relinquished it, in 1992, to the Port.

In 2003, the Magnolia Community Club began to insist the property be restored to shoreline for park uses. When mitigation funds for the Metro Plant at West Point became available, Phillips worked to acquire half of the property that resulted in the ballfields below the Magnolia Bridge at Smith Cove. The other piece, the West Yard, remained in the hands of the Port.

At that time, there was talk of a land swap: the West Yard for the ballfields. The community wanted to trade pieces as the Port land seemed more suited to park uses and views. This began a long land wrangle that lasted for years and prompted the idea that both pieces of property should be part of a future Smith Cove Park.

A “series of quiet conversations to explore the options” took place involving him, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and Port Commissioner president Gael Tarleton, Phillips said. At that point, the federal government called for strict sewage-overflow practices and facilities, and Smith Cove was named as a site for this.

Phillips and Bagshaw then worked toward a joint-use agreement that would allow the property to be used for the CSO station and still accommodate park uses. Phillips called this “grassroots-up government: citizens working hard and getting four government entities — feds, county, city and Port — to create the vision of a citizen-driven park. A good example of how government should work, and one that is rare today.”

Park goals in mind
Bruce Carter, co-chair of Friends of Smith Cove Park,  pointed out in a phone interview that there are still two issues that remain on the radar for the Friends of Smith Cove Park (which includes the 19 community organizations of the Magnolia-Queen Anne District Council).

First, “marshaling resources to complete the park design process and get it built,” he said; this includes the possibility of a future levy. Secondly, “getting continuing cooperation from the county in getting the CSO property integrated into the park design with park uses: keeping fences to a minimum, greening up the property, maximizing the CSO land’s park potential and integrating the property into the city park space.”

Phillips said on behalf of the county council, “It is going to be integrated — we are going to work overtime to see it is an appropriate part of the park.”

Pam Elardo, director of Wastewater Treatment for King County,  “We are continuing to work with Parks on this, and it should be pretty seamless.”

Community liaison Sandy Kilroy, assistant director of Wastewater Treatment for King County, cited the CSO station’s design and its “robust landscape plan.”

Project manager Shahrzael Namini pointed out its placement underground far in the back of the land, with a small, above-ground footprint, and fences that will be reconfigured when the park design is completed to ensure compatibility.

She also said the land was being well crafted to encourage the bird habitat.

Kilroy said, “Public meetings and the spirit of being good neighbors will carry forward as the park takes it shape in its future design process.”

To comment on this story, write to