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    Update on the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project

    CheastyOver the course of the last year, my office has received a great deal of correspondence regarding the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project proposed for the Cheasty Greenspace.  This project first came before the Council as part of its approval of a Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) grant that would support the construction of a perimeter trail, envisioned by the proponents as the first phase of a larger project involving mountain bike and pedestrian cross trails through the interior of the Greenspace.  The project was initially proposed by The Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View (Friends), in collaboration with a number of community partners. The Friends are doing a great job of removing invasive plants and restoring the area.  Such volunteer work is essential to reclaiming our Greenspaces, and I deeply appreciate the work of the Friends.Volunteer Work Party When this proposal came before the Council intense community interest in support and in opposition was expressed.  Some would like to see Cheasty developed with a network of pedestrian and mountain bike trails and others are concerned about the effect of mountain bike trails on the Greenspace. Since at least 1988 Seattle has had policies relating to our Open Spaces (now referred to as Greenspaces).[1]  Generally the policies on Greenspaces include 5 key goals, to[2]:
    1. Help preserve areas of natural landscape and habitat for wildlife
    2. Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity
    3. Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution
    4. Help reduce the necessity for constructed storm water systems
    5. Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land
    Those and other City policies were developed over the years through a lengthy public process at a time when there was intense pressure for development and building within the greenbelts.  While the policies for the Greenspaces do not prohibit pedestrian trails or the use of bicycles, it is clear that uses in the Greenspaces are to be “low impact”.  Where such uses are proposed, careful planning consistent with City polices and environmental stewardship must occur. Those who oppose the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project have been characterized as “a small but vocal group”.  However, there is strong support throughout the City for protecting our Greenspaces and strong support for the five key goals in our policies. MUAjmkULtWAvHgg-580x326-noPad The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission in an April 2, 2014 letter to the Mayor and Councilmember Jean Godden noted the following: Cheasty Greenspace is part of the approximately 14 percent of park land that falls under the April 2009 Seattle Parks Classification as a “Natural Area/Greenbelt”. That classification notes that “Natural areas are park sites established for the protection and stewardship of habitat and other natural systems support functions.  Some natural areas are accessible for low impact use.  Minimal infrastructure may include access and signage where it will not adversely impact habitat or natural systems functions.” …The Commission is very concerned about any conversion of natural areas and Greenspaces in our urban forest to more active uses which can impact the habitat and wildlife protection in these areas. When this project was proposed to the Council, it did not appear that public dialogue had been held on how the project was consistent with our longstanding Greenspaces policies. Evidently, the Parks Department (DPR) was aware of the sensitivity of constructing a mountain bike trail in the Greenspace/Natural area because DPR in communication with the City Council refers to the trail as a “1.5 mil perimeter bike loop”. To be clear, the legislation before the Council was the NMF grant for funding of a perimeter trail only.  Thus Council’s decision to specify that design discussion should focus on a perimeter trail was, in part, an effort to keep discussion focused on the scope of the NMF proposal before the Council. 6731508Meanwhile it was made public by the proposal’s advocates that the long-term desire was to include interior mountain bike trails within the Greenspace, which Council was concerned may not be “low impact”.    We know, for example, that Cheasty Greenspace is an ecologically sensitive area, especially with respect to the slopes and wetlands.  Yet, without sufficient information at the time the Council acted last summer, it was Council’s belief that more study should be done, and that steps should be taken (such as focusing on a perimeter trail) to prevent potential ecological risk to the landscape.   I support that cautious approach. When proposed actions are potentially inconsistent with longstanding city policies it is appropriate for the Council to respond to public concern.    In this case we asked the Parks Department to conduct a public process on the project, so that more information could be developed and public review could occur. DPR is in the midst of that Council-requested public process involving a Project Advisory Team (PAT) composed of community members.  The PAT will make a recommendation to the Parks Board of Commissioners on the design of the project.  Following this, DPR is expected to make a final decision on the design consistent with Council direction, and return to the Council for approval.  These requirements are consistent with the City Council’s responsibility to comply with city policy, our responsibility for oversight of City Departments, and our stewardship of our parks and public lands. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Project Advisory Team, the Parks Board, and ultimately of DPR.  I expect that in-depth study will be completed on the ecological impact of the final design proposal.  And, I anticipate a more comprehensive discussion of how this project correlates to our existing policy on Greenspaces and of whether the policies should change. The Council has requested the Parks Department to review and report back to the Council on policies relating to use guidelines for natural areas and greenspaces (such as the Cheasty Greenspace) by this summer.  That process has already begun, and I anticipate that there will be ample time to review those policy recommendations within the context of the Cheasty project. There is a need for more places for active recreation including mountain biking.  I am confident that need can be met without damaging our Greenspaces and undermining the unique benefits they provide to our environment. [1] Seattle City Council Resolution 27852, adopted September 12th, 1988 [2] Seattle City Council Resolution 28653, adopted February 8th, 1993    
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