Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #99: Arboretum EIS And Master Plan

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich on this issue.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Arboretum EIS And Master Plan
  • City Council Process
  • Ownership
  • Summary Of Proposed Master Plan
  • Financing
  • Citizen Groups Involved In Arboretum Debate
  • Process 1994-2000
  • EIS And Master Plan Availability 

Arboretum EIS And Master Plan 

The Department of Parks and Recreation has released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Washington Park Arboretum Master Plan proposed by the Arboretum and Botanical Gardening Committee. This Master Plan is proposed to replace the current 1978 Master Plan, and is intended as a 30-year plan.

The Arboretum and Botanical Gardening Committee (ABGC) governs the Arboretum, and is composed of the 3 representatives from the City of Seattle, 3 from the University of Washington, two from the non-profit Arboretum Foundation, and one from the State of Washington.

City Council Process 

There will be a briefing on the EIS and proposed Master Plan in the Culture, Arts and Parks (CAP) Committee of the City Council on Wednesday, January 24, at the regular 2 p.m. meeting.

The CAP Committee meeting will be shown on TV-Sea later in the week. The daily schedule should be consulted for exact broadcast times.

A public hearing before the CAP Committee should be scheduled soon; I will send a notice out when it is scheduled. This will be a joint hearing with the Board of Park Commissioners. The Master Plan will then face a vote before the CAP Committee, before moving on to a vote before the Full Council.


Under the terms of an agreement dating to 1934, the City of Seattle provided land for the UW to build an arboretum in Washington Park. The City of Seattle owns the land in Washington Park Arboretum, with the exception of a few acres on the north end of Foster Island owned by the University of Washington, while the University of Washington owns the plant collection.

Any changes to the current Arboretum Master Plan will need to be approved by both the Seattle City Council and the University of Washington Board of Regents.

Summary Of Proposed Master Plan

The ABGC Master Plan proposal is based on three areas: education, conservation, and recreation; the proposal lists more detail on each of these areas.

The education section foresees an increase in K-12 students served from 2,640 in 1999-2000 to 20,000 from the region. The conservation section focuses on the role of the Arboretum in preserving rare plants. The recreation section focuses on general-purpose use along the lines of traditional parks.

The EIS analyzes Master Plan alternatives included for the seven areas: roadways, pedestrian and bicycle circulation, parking facilities, buildings, outdoor shelters, landscape features, and safety features. A number of proposals were made in addition to the proposed master plan. A matrix-format comparison of these alternatives is included in pages 6-8, near the beginning of the report.

The proposed Master Plan is included as Appendix A. At the end of the plan, a table is included which compares the proposed Master Plan, the 1997 Greenprint, the 1999 Alternative Plan used in the Draft EIS, the existing (1978) plan, the 1936 Olmsted Plan.

Some of the more controversial elements of the Greenprint and 1999 Alternative have been removed from the currently proposed Master Plan. The 5,000 square foot “Madrona Terrace” building proposed for the south end of the Arboretum has been replaced with a 300 square foot shelter. In addition, administrative space proposed in the previous plans has been proposed to be located in the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

Key elements of the proposed plan in the areas mentioned above are as follows:


The northern third of Arboretum Drive is proposed to be moved to the east, adjacent to the fence with Broadmoor, so that it would run behind the Graham Visitor’s Center. The intersection at north entrance, by the SR 520 ramps, is proposed for a redesign.

Pedestrian and bicycle circulation

A reorientation of the trail system is proposed, with three new north/south routes, and an elevated canopy walk between Honeysuckle Hill and Yew Hill. Also proposed is a path alongside Arboretum Drive, and sidewalks from Madison Street to Arboretum Drive. A bicycle/pedestrian path is proposed for the east side of Lake Washington Boulevard. A pedestrian-bicycle overpass, and two pedestrian-activated crosswalk signals are proposed.

Parking facilities

The Plan proposes a consolidation of parking in the Arboretum, with about the same number of car spaces as currently exist, and additional space for bus parking. Seven of the 10 small lots along Arboretum Drive are proposed for removal, reducing the number of spaces from 89 to 30. Six parking lots would be eliminated in the north end of the park. The Graham Visitors Center lot would be expanded from 47 to 109 cars and 4 buses. The 84-car lot between the Japanese Garden and Washington Park playfield would be expanded to 128 spaces for cars and 4 for buses. New lots are proposed on Arboretum Drive for the south end of Arboretum Drive (30 cars at Madrona Terrace), and a new 18-car lot by Woodland Meadow, further north.


Renovations are proposed to several buildings, and new 3,000 square foot buildings for curation and education are proposed adjacent to the Graham Visitors Center. A 2,500 square foot visitor and education center are proposed near the playfield lot, and a new entrance for the Japanese Garden.

As mentioned earlier, the Plan proposes administrative space being located offsite, possibly at MOHAI.

Outdoor shelters

A total of 4 new 300 square foot shelters are proposed for Foster Island, Yew Hill, near the alpine plant display, and Madrona Terrace. Two new storage and operations buildings are proposed in the current area near the Graham Visitor’s Center.

Landscape features

The Plan proposes a renovation of the 30 existing plant exhibits and 21 new ones, organized along eco-geographic lines (by area of origin, e.g. Chile and New Zealand); current exhibits are arranged taxonomically, i.e. by groups of related plants. The Plan draws a parallel to recent changes in exhibits in the Woodland Park Zoo from taxonomic (e.g. Primate House) to ecological (African Savannah).

The plan proposes planting trees along the north end of Lake Washington Boulevard, and a viewing platform on the south shore of Marsh Island, as well as a partial daylighting of Arboretum Creek.

Safety features

The Plan proposed additional lighting and telephones, minimizing parking in isolated areas, and improved signage.


At my request, Parks issued a financing report along with the Draft EIS, which estimated the capital cost of the proposed Master Plan at approximately $44 million (over 30 years). The breakdown for costs was:

  • $16.4 million for plant exhibits
  • $9.6 million for buildings
  • $6.3 million for bridges, pedestrian overpasses
  • $5.8 million for pathways and trails
  • $2.9 million for roadways and parking
  • $2.0 million for stream and pond restoration
  • $0.9 million for interpretive shelters

Most of the $44 million was not identified in the funding report. $2.2 million was included in the 2000 Pro Parks levy passed by voters, and around $1 million is available from the Shoreline Park Improvement Fund (SPIF).

In addition to the capital costs, the Master Plan calls for an increase in staffing, over the 30 years of the plan, from the current 23 employees to 72 full time positions. This would increase annual operating and maintenance expenses to $5.9 million per year, in 2000 dollars. Just under $450,000 is projected as being from the City; the rest is projected as coming from the University of Washington and the Arboretum Foundation.

The financing plan estimates revenues eventually reaching $4.1 million annually, up from the current $1.86 million. This includes a projected quadrupling of membership fees and retail sales.

Process 1994-2000 

Planning for the Arboretum Master Plan began in 1994, with the beginning of a scoping study; in 1995 the Scoping Report for a New Master Plan for the Washington Park Arboretum was published. The Arboretum Plan, A Greenprint for the Future, 1997, was published by the ABGC in 1997, along with a proposal for Unified Governance under the auspices of the Arboretum Foundation.

After controversy about some elements of the Greenprint plan, the Board of Park Commissioners convened a series of public workshops in late 1998. A summary of comments was published in 1999. A final scoping report and a new ABGC alternative Master Plan published in 1999, served as the basis for the Draft EIS, published in mid-2000. The items from 1998 on can be viewed at the Parks Arboretum website listed above.

Citizen Groups Involved In Arboretum Debate 

In addition to Parks and the University of Washington, there are two key groups involved in this debate: The Arboretum Foundation, which has two members on the ABGC; and the Arboretum Park Preservation Coalition, composed of several neighborhood groups, has been skeptical of some changes proposed in the Arboretum.

Several issues of UP have dealt with the Arboretum planning process. Issues #’s 40, 50, and 66 provide the most useful information; complete list available at the alphabetical subject UP index.

EIS And Master Plan Availability 

The Final EIS includes the Master Plan proposed by the ABGC, and is available at the Parks website.

The website includes a history of the public process from 1994 on, and basic information about Washington Park Arboretum; additional information is available at the University of Washington Arboretum site.

Hard copies of the Final EIS are available for use at the Downtown, Montlake, University and Madrona-Goldmark branches of the Seattle Public Library, and the Suzallo and Allen libraries at the University of Washington. Copies are also available from Parks at for $20 by contacting Laurel Mercury at 206-684-7055, or 800 Maynard Avenue South, Third Floor, Seattle, WA 98134. Maps not included in the EIS can also be obtained from Parks.

Keep in touch…

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