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Community members look to improve U-District open space

by Chetan Chandrashekhar, the Daily

Originally posted in the Daily.

Forum

Milenko Matanovic leads a public discussion between community members regarding urban open space in the University District. 

A group of planners, local residents, business owners, and neighborhood activists are planning for new open spaces in the U-District. The group, largely comprised of people not affiliated with the UW, held the first in a series of three meetings organized by the U-District Partnership on Tuesday night at the Alder Hall Commons.

There are 1,500 new housing units currently under construction in the U-District, with an estimated 4,000 more to be built and 4,800 jobs to be created in the next 20 years. This is the result of the U-District’s recent designation by the City of Seattle as an “urban center,” which indicates the city wants new growth directed into the neighborhood. The city plans to increase height limits, possibly up to 340 feet (approximately 34 stories), in parts of the U-District.

Those in attendance said they wanted improved public safety and greater access to restrooms. Many also called for more open spaces, especially around the future light rail station on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and 45th Streets. Attendees also wanted to attract more events to the neighborhood, from fairs and farmers markets to protests and other public displays of political statement.

Though there is an abundance of open space on campus, the UW can escort people off the land and all demonstrations have to be pre-approved.

U District Square, an organization that wants a park installed atop the light rail station, was heavily represented at the forum.

“Seattle has a lot of examples of bad open spaces … we shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot just because we had one bad example,” said Cory Crocker, a member of U District Square. “There are some benefits from having a democratic open space.” 

The group has been lobbying for a park the past few years. So far, both the UW and Sound Transit have opposed such plans and have agreed to build new six- to eight-story office buildings on top of the station instead. Sound Transit is already building the station, and doesn’t want to change any plans for fear of future delays.

“A massive effort has been put in place to really create a coalition of stakeholders involved in this process,” said Milenko Matanovic, the facilitator of the event. 

There were presentations from staff of the Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the Seattle Parks Department and the Portland Parks Department, as well as MAKERS Architects and Planners.

The DPD said the neighborhood will be 5 acres below its target for open space. Some additions are already underway, including the expansion of Christie Park on Northeast 43rd Street and Ninth Avenue and a “festival street” on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and 45th Streets. There are also plans for a new “parklet,” or mini-park, on Northeast 43rd Street next to the Ave.

“Its not just parks, it a whole system that we’re looking at,” said John Owen, an architect with MAKERS. “In many ways, streets are going to be the connectors that are very important as well. My favorite quote is, ‘The greatest urban spaces are street corners.’”

The previous Parks Department plan for the U-District was completed in 2006. The Seattle Parks Department will begin working on a new plan soon. Along with the increases in height limits, the department wants to change regulations to allow for more new open space on private land.

The U-District Partnership will have two more meetings on Oct. 30 and Dec. 3. They are open to the public. For more information, visit www.UDistrictPartnership.org.

Reach reporter Chetan Chandrashekhar at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ChaitanyaUW