Olympia can’t afford to expand LBA Woods Park

The OlympianFebruary 23, 2014 

A group of citizens wants the city of Olympia to expand LBA Woods Park in southeast Olympia at the expense of two housing developments planned there. This will challenge the city to assess its balance of open space and urban density.

At the end of the day, the city must conclude that it has neither the resources to purchase and maintain more parkland, or sufficient urban density to justify its acquisition.

We understand the interests of residents living near the 22.6-acre LBA Woods Park. They have enjoyed the two parcels totaling 150 undeveloped acres adjacent to the park for years. The property is being used as if it was already public space.

The proposals for subdivisions on the acreages — one parcel north of the park, another south of the park — would alter the character of neighborhood, at least for those who assumed the private property would remain unchanged forever.

We appreciate the value of open space. It adds to residents’ quality of life. But we also value urban density. It creates efficiency in the delivery of public services and the viability of private commercial enterprise.

A healthy city mixes these competing interests in sustainable portions.

The city of Olympia has already stated near- and long-term commitments to new parks that do not have identified funding sources. It is currently figuring out how to pay for the first phase of isthmus park development, with the help of the Capitol Park Foundation. And has declared a long-term intention to acquire the Capitol Center building and property.

The city is in no financial position to make another commitment for up to $12 million to purchase the two parcels next to LBA Woods Park, let alone the cost of developing the space and maintaining it in the future.

While council weighs the merits of expanding LBA Woods Park, they must also consider the financial impact of lost future revenue by virtue of eliminating more than 700 potential taxpaying households.

These issues alone should be enough to deter the city. But Olympia, like every other city in Washington, has an obligation under the state’s Growth Management Act to achieve certain levels of density. To accomplish those targets, Olympia must fill in its open spaces or accept taller multiple unit developments, or both.

The purpose of the GMA is to preserve farmland and open space outside of the designated urban growth areas, thus creating a steep dynamic range in density between designated rural and urban areas.

LBA Woods Park resides inside the city limits and well within Olympia’s urban growth area boundaries. The existing 22.6-acre park may already be an appropriate size for that neighborhood.

Simply put, the city cannot afford to expand this park.

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