Staff at odds with council over 75-acre park plan

After city staff changed the access point to an alternative that residents argued would be more disruptive to their neighborhood, city council members changed the access back an original plan.

Despite public survey results and a city council resolution that said access to Oak Harbor’s future 75-acre park should be on Gun Club Road, city staff changed the access to an alternative that residents argued would be more disruptive to their neighborhood.

But after city council members learned about this change in a memo, they voiced concerns during a workshop Wednesday and the access point was changed back to Gun Club Road.

The city has long talked about creating a regional sports park and bought a 75-acre property for $1.1 million in January 2020. A design concept shows six soccer fields, two multipurpose fields, four Little League fields, four softball fields, one baseball field, a building with restrooms and concessions, a wetland area, a playground and a perimeter trail.

City Engineer Alex Warner also told council members that a high-level estimate for the entire park set the cost at $60.7 million.

After the public survey results and the council members’ resolution in favor of initial access on Gun Club Road, city council members learned in a May 14 memo from Mayor Bob Severns that staff was proceeding with access via Northwest Elwha Street.

The council’s resolution hinged on a traffic study and further information from Island County staff, Severn’s memo said, and new information showed that Gun Club Road was no longer the best option. Consultant David Evans and Associates’s traffic study analyzed collision history, average daily trips and the level of service of three intersections — one at North Oak Harbor Road and Northwest Crosby, one at Northwest Elwha Street and Northwest Crosby, and one at North Oak Harbor Road and Gun Club Road.

The study showed no preference for an intersection in regards to collision history, traffic impacts or level of service.

The study estimated there would be 143 average daily trips at the park after the first phase, which will include the construction of just two soccer field and 50 parking spaces. City Engineer Alex Warner said the study did not include a weekend trip analysis.

City staff also met with county staff and learned that Gun Club Road, which is a county road, would need to be widened to 30 feet for it to be used for park access. The road is currently 24 feet wide in some areas and narrows to 14 feet wide where the park entrance would be in the future.

Warner said it would cost an estimated $200,000 to widen the road, which would also need sidewalks and other pedestrian safety measures.

He said that staff preferred initial park access on Northwest Elwha Street because it already has sidewalks, is wider and is a city road so it would require less coordination with the county. Warner said staff were worried about the extra time it would take for the project to get started if the city did proceed with access on Gun Club Road because the city has a deadline to complete the construction of phase one by the end of next year. Grant funding from the state Reservation and Conservation Office grant would be jeopardized if the city did not meet that deadline, he explained.

Council members said they were concerned about the traffic impacts in the neighborhood, overflow parking and how crowded the area would become.

“You are ruining that neighborhood, I’m sorry,” said Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns.

After much discussion, the mayor and staff acquiesced to the city council members and said they would proceed with Gun Club Road access.

The park will eventually have four access points including one at Northwest Elwha Street.