Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #106: Woodland Park Zoo Draft Long-Range Plan 2001 & Draft EIS

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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.



  • Draft Long-Range Plan 2001 & Draft EIS
  • Zoo Information
  • Draft Long-Range Plan Summary
  • Draft EIS
  • Brief History Of Zoo
  • Board Of Park Commissioners Public Comment For Draft Plan
  • EIS And Plan Availability
  • Process At City Council
  • Another Zoo Issues

Woodland Park Zoo Draft Long-Range Plan 2001 & Draft EIS

The Woodland Park Zoo has released a draft Long-Range Plan 2001 and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this plan. The Plan 2001 is intended as a 20-year development plan and update of the 1976 Long-Range Plan. It contains sections on Development Guidelines, Non-Exhibit Recommendations, and Exhibit Scenarios. Although not called a master plan, it is essentially the same thing.

Zoo Information

According to the EIS, the Woodland Park Zoo is the third largest tourist attraction in area. In 1980, there were 786,000 visitors to the Zoo; in 2000, 1.13 million, a 41% increase; the study projects 1.39 million visitors in 2020, an increase of 23% from 2000.

The Zoo has a $16 million operating budget, two-thirds of which is self-generated. The Zoo is receiving approximately $2.8 million from City’s General Fund this year; $20 million for the Zoo was included in the Pro-Parks levy, passed by voters in 2000.

Draft Long-Range Plan Summary

The following summary is compiled from the Draft Long-Range Plan 2001.

Overall, the plan is designed to continue the movement toward more humane, naturalistic settings for animals (and visitor ambience), and away from cages. This was the key thrust of the 1976 plan; along these lines, the Plan includes new facilities for jaguars, wild dogs and tigers.

The Plan also includes a new “Discovery Village,” designed as a interactive learning environment. Later phases of the plan call for new exhibits called the Desert Pavilion, and Asian Highlands (intended as a companion to the Northern Trail). Other exhibits, such as the African Savanna, will receive new elements.

Visitor amenities are a key thrust of the plan. The primary pathway loop is being redesigned, and shortened by 20%, with the intent of making it easier to move around the zoo. In addition, the plan calls for the addition of a donated carousel near the North Meadow Area, and a new “West Entry”, and expansion for zoo operational and animal breeding and care areas. Other amenities are planned for the West Entry area. A new Administration building adjacent to Phinney Avenue is included.

The Plan calls for an expansion of public on-site parking, from the current 650 spaces to 1,400, through construction of a 1,000-space garage located in the present south parking lot; opening a 170-car surface lot in the northwest corner (called the ‘west’ site) of the zoo, that will also serve as a bus load/unload area; and retaining 195 existing spaces in the north lot, and 35 existing spaces in the south. In addition, spaces for staff & volunteer parking are slated for the southwest section.

According the Master Plan, only about 1% of zoo visitors arrive by public transit.

There are no currently no cost estimates yet for the Plan 2001; when the Zoo Society briefed the Council on the Plan in March, I requested that they come back with cost estimates for plan implementation.

Draft EIS

The Draft EIS evaluates four alternatives, principally concerning the location and size of the proposed parking garage. Alternatives to the Plan 2001 proposal include having the 1,000 car garage on the west site, building two smaller garages at the south and west sites; and a no-action alternative. A table comparing the alternatives is included in the Draft EIS.

Brief History Of Zoo

The first zoo in Seattle dates to 1893, and was located in Leschi Park. The City purchased the current site of Woodland Park in 1899, and established a zoo there shortly thereafter. Carkeek Park was used as a vegetable garden for zoo animals.

The Olmsted Brothers provided the first design for Woodland Park and the zoo from 1910-1912; Lower Woodland was left as a wooded area.

In the 1930’s Aurora Avenue was constructed, and bisected Woodland Park, despite a public referendum vote against the plan. During the Depression years and onward, several WPA projects were built, and further additions made in the 1940s and 50s. A 1968 Forward Thrust Bond provided $4.5 million for Zoo improvements.

A 1974 initiative defeated a plan to extend the zoo by building a cap over Aurora Avenue. Mayor Wes Uhlman then appointed a zoo advisory committee, the result of which was the 1976 Plan. Following from the Plan, a $54 million development program was carried out in the 1980s and 1990s, including the Asian Elephant Forest, Tropical Rain Forest, Northern Trail, and Trail of Vine.

Board Of Park Commissioners Public Comment For Draft Plan

On May 10, The Board of Park Commissioners will hold a formal public comment period on the Draft Long-Range Plan 2001 at Ê7:30 p.m., at the Park Boardroom at 100 Dexter Avenue North. The purpose of this public comment period is to directly address the plan itself. Comments on the Plan can also be emailed to the above e-mail address. Afterwards, the Board will make a recommendation on the Plan to the City Council.

Comments can also be sent by e-mail.

EIS And Plan Availability

The Draft Plan and Draft EIS are both available at the Woodland Park Zoo’s website.

Copies of the Draft EIS and Draft Long Range Plan 2001 can be viewed at the Downtown, Greenwood, Green Lake, Ballard and Fremont branches of the Seattle public library; the Greenwood, Ballard and Fremont Neighborhood Service Centers

Copies of the Draft EIS and Draft Plan are also available for review at the zoo during business hours at the Activity Resource Center at

Woodland Park Zoo 5500 Phinney Avenue North Seattle, WA 98103 Attention: Jim Maxwell

Copies can also be purchased for $15 (plus $5 for any telephone or mail orders; phone number to order is 206-684-5824).

The public comment period ended May 1. The Final EIS will be now be prepared, and is targeted for July, and will be presented to the City Council upon completion.

Process At City Council

Once submitted to the Council, the Plan 2001 will then come before the Culture, Arts and Parks Committee of the City Council, which I chair. The committee will hold at least one public hearing before any vote takes place.

As the EIS notes, the Discovery Village (40 feet high), Administration Building (3 stories on Phinney Avenue, 45 feet high), and parking garage (5 or 6 stories, perhaps one level partially underground; if so, maximum 50 feet high) elements of the plan would exceed the 30-foot height limit for zoning. They would thus need DCLU to issue a height variance, or the City Council to pass an amendment to the land use code.

Another Zoo Issue – Governance

Another key issue that will before the Council for the Zoo is the issue of non-profit governance. The Plan notes that this issue, as well as issues regarding education and conservation programs, will be addressed in separate documents.

Keep in touch…

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