The controversial plan, which includes playfields in Queen Anne and Magnolia, came about because youth and adult sports teams are facing a shortage of space in which to play and practice, and the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department and Seattle Public Schools can't afford to build enough new fields to accommodate the need.
Upgrading playfields so they would be usable for more hours of the day appeared to be a cost-effective way to solve the problem. Proposed renovations include installing artificial turf that, unlike real grass, does not require time to recuperate after heavy use and field lighting that will allow play well into the evening.
But neighbors of playfields such as the Queen Anne Bowl are concerned about impacts of the bright field lighting and the noise of spectators and teams that can go on until 11 at night.
Despite those worries, the commissioners approved the 2001-2002 update of the 1997 Joint Athletic Facilities Development Program (JAFDP) with minor amendments and agreed to hold the plan in abeyance pending fine-tuning of three policies within the JAFDP. The JAFDP is a partnership between the parks department and the school district.
Parks department personnel will work on the Use and Scheduling Policy, Sports Participation Policy and Lighting Design Guidelines and bring recommendations on the three policies to the commissioners for review at their March 28 meeting.
Once everything is approved, the JAFDP will eventually go before the Seattle City Council.
The Queen Anne Bowl, which is used for team play by soccer and lacrosse groups, will remain a priority in the JAFDP to receive field lights, but only if and when the parks department obtains funding.
By voting to leave the Bowl on the unfunded priority list, the commissioners adopted the parks department's recommendations. More than one commissioner said they were giving their approval because they felt they did not have enough information, particularly about whether neighborhood impacts could be sufficiently mitigated, to take it off the list.
Alix Ogden, of the Superintendent of Parks Office, pointed out that the impacts will vary from field to field and parks personnel can provide only "a certain level of certainty" about impacts and mitigation until the design process begins on a playfield, which cannot be done without funding.
Commissioner Kate Pflaumer said she was not sure that keeping lights on at the Bowl until 11 p.m. was reasonable. She wondered whether, once the playfields that have funding for renovations are upgraded, the fields that currently have no funding for improvements would be needed less so lights could be turned off earlier. Pflaumer also said she was willing to reconsider her vote on the Queen Anne Bowl.
Parks department personnel indicated the reason for eventually lighting the Bowl is that it is the only all-weather field available for play on Queen Anne and that adding the lights is consistent with the lighting criteria developed in the JAFDP. The lighting criteria states that the parks department should "seek to light fields that currently have all-weather or synthetic surfaces."
Although team play in the Bowl is limited to 1,200 hours a year at the request of the Queen Anne Community Council, that cap may be reexamined by the parks department if the lights are installed because then play could extend into the evening for a total use of 2,000-2,400 hours a year.
The JAFDP also lists a parcel of land owned by the U.S. Navy in Smith Cove as a priority to be turned into a youth soccer field with artificial turf and lights. But the parks department has not yet acquired the property, and there is only partial funding for its purchase. There also is no money at this point to develop the property into a park, according to the parks department.
While the Magnolia community has expressed an interest in turning the property into a park, there is a division of opinion over whether it should be a playfield or a passive use park. At their Feb. 14 meeting the commissioners acknowledged the split in opinion by amending the JAFDP to note that, if the property is purchased, a public process will be held to determine its use.
Parks staff are slated to bring recommendations back to the commissioners regarding the hours that the fields should operate. Although parks staff are looking into a 10 p.m. turnoff time for lights at all playfields except those used for baseball or softball in the spring and summer, the JAFDP says an earlier cutoff is impractical because it would eliminate the last game of the day, greatly reducing hours of play for adults.
Parks personnel will also develop Lighting Design Guidelines, based primarily on the 2001 Ballfield Lighting Study, for review by the commissioners. The guidelines will govern levels of lighting based on field use, controlling light spill, design parameters for lighting materials and expectations for performance verification.
The commissioners also amended the JAFDP to adopt a parks department process for stakeholders to give their input on projects that significantly increase a field's capacity. Project Advisory Teams, composed of representatives from user groups and neighbors, will be used for installation of new playfield lights or synthetic turf
Drafts of the three recommended policies are supposed to be made available to the public at least two weeks before the March 28 meeting.
The draft JAFDP can be found at http://www.cityofseattle.nete/parks/meetings/jafdp/jafdp.htm.