Rumors of Smith Cove land-swap stir panic, controversy

A community activist has sparked a panic and prompted a flurry of e-mails and a letter to the city from the Magnolia Community Club over a potential land swap that could see the Port of Seattle put up an 85-foot-tall office building on Lower Smith Cove property, said community club president Vic Barry.

The activist, he said, is Elizabeth Campbell, who says she heads up a new neighborhood group in Magnolia.

Lower Smith Cove is now part of the city's parks system, and while the idea of swapping that property for Port property just to the east has been floating around for a decade, the idea is just that at the moment, said Donald Harris, manager of property and acquisition for Seattle Parks and Recreation.

"I'm not quite sure why it's become front-burner stuff," he said. The Parks Department has had no recent talks with the Port about the swap, Harris added. "We're not even in the same room with them yet."

Port spokesman Mick Shultz agreed. "A concept is all it is at this point," he said. "It's on hold." The Port and the city need to do a lot more due diligence before plans for a swap could go forward, Shultz added. "If it looks like it's going forward, there would be ample time for public comment."

Still, North Seattle Industrial Association president Eugene Wasserman was so concerned about the possibility that he e-mailed King County Council president Larry Phillips, a Magnolia resident, about the issue.

Wasserman said he'd seen plans for an office building on the property in Port documents, and he wanted Phillips to know that both his associate and the Ballard Interbay North End Manufacturing and Industrial Center organization supported Phillips' position on Lower Smith Cove.

Phillips was largely responsible for getting King County to contribute $3 million to help buy the land from the Navy, and one condition was that the property be used for public shoreline access and athletic fields for youth.

"With its rare views of Elliott Bay, the downtown skyline and Mount Rainier, and the public's desire to preserve it for public recreational use and access," Phillips e-mailed Wasserman, "we must be united in resisting pressure to develop it or trade it away."

Barry from the Magnolia Community Club also said he had not heard of any formal negotiations going on between the Port and the Parks Department about a land swap. "There is no process in the works."

But he says he expects the issue to resurface in the future and fired off a letter to the Port and the city about the idea. "This letter," Barry wrote, "is the Magnolia Community Club's request that should any land swap be considered, it be considered in an open public process, and that the framework of the City's analysis includes all possible community concerns and risks of future development."

Barry also brought up the possibility in the letter that the Port might develop the land to the east of Lower Smith Cove as part of its North Bay plans. That would block views and result in the park feeling like it was in a box canyon, he wrote.

The community club's position is that you can't stop all development, Barry said in a phone interview. "But you can certainly manage it so it's an asset for the community."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]