Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #107: Background To Aboretum 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.



  • Background To Aboretum Master Plan
  • Cap Committee Actions
  • Final Council Action
  • Thank Yous

Background To Aboretum Master Plan  

For the last six years the City and the University of Washington have been engaged in a long process of updating the 1978 Master Plan for the Arboretum. The new plan, which is to guide the development of the park for the next 30 years, began with an initial scoping report in 1994 and then was followed up with a draft plan published in 1997.

When I came into office in 1998, there was quite a bit of controversy stirring up over the direction of the plan. The author of the plan was the Arboretum and Botanical Gardening Committee. (ABGC), which 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.

Critics of the plan felt that it over-emphasized the scientific and educational elements of the park as an arboretum to the detriment of the park serving an unstructured recreational purpose. The Arboretum Park Preservation Coalition, consisting of more than a dozen community groups, formed to champion the park-like functions of Washington Park.

As Chair of the Council’s Culture Arts and Parks (CAP) Committee it was my responsibility to oversee the public process and the legislation which would come before the City Council to approve any new Master Plan. Before the plan reached my Committee for a vote it came before the Board of Park Commissioners. They convened a series of public workshops in late 1998 because of the controversy. A new 1999 Master Plan emerged from those hearings and from a number of meetings that I encouraged between members of the Foundation and the Coalition. The new plan addressed many of the concerns that the critics had raised and it served as the basis for the Draft EIS, which was published in mid-2000.

My Urban Politics # 102 provides a brief but good summary of both of these documents.

Cap Committee Actions

The Park Commissioners suggested some changes to the plan and it was referred to my CAP Committee for a discussion and vote last month. To accommodate these and other citizen proposed amendments to the final Master Plan, my CAP Committee Meeting, (which 7 of the 9 Council Members attended) took over two dozen votes to resolve all the amends but 4 which came before the Full Council Meeting this last Monday.

Those amendments passed the CAP Committee and were incorporated into the plan:

Add a statement clarifying the nature of the City’s commitment, and the need for approval of costs through the City’s budget process;

Adding Implementation Guidelines and Mitigation Measures from the Final EIS, pending review by Law;

Request Parks develop option and evaluate pros and cons regarding expanding ABGC membership (supporting the Board of Park Commissioner’s request for such);

Require Parks to report to the Council annually on plan implementation;

Add language to the Plan that to “Strive to limit the extent of buildings at the Graham Visitor Center to the western edge of the current pavement of Arboretum Drive.”;

Add safe storm drains, paving, signage and traffic calming on Lake Washington Boulevard to improve bicycle safety;

Increase the number of parking spaces at Duck Bay from 10 to 14;

Clarify that the City and University of Washington are to develop a signage plan, not the ABGC.

Add statements that Parking in the south lot will be expanded only if strictly necessary for implementation of other parts of the plan and requiring retention of the Sequoia trees in the area.

All other elements of the new Master Plan were approved as submitted to the City Council subject to a vote on the 4 last amendments, which went before the Full Council.

Final Council Action

On Monday, May 7th, the City Council unanimously passed Resolution 31317 that would adopt a new master plan for the Washington Park Arboretum. The goals of the new plan are to maximize the arboretum’s value to the communities of western Washington as a place of

Two of the four amendments from the CAP Committee were included in the final legislation.

The first amendment clarified and strengthened the park function of the Arboretum and re-stated that no permanent perimeter fencing nor fees would be charged for entering the park. Although the adopted citizen initiative in the mid-1970’s clearly stated that neither fencing nor fees could be charged to the Arboretum, adding this language was urged by a number of community groups to avoid any future watering down of this policy.

The second amendment proposed that the Foster Island pedestrian overpass would be further studied before seeking funding for construction of this element. Less expensive and near-term alternatives for safe at-grade pedestrian crossings will also be explored. Council staff received clarification from Parks that the Foster Island overpass was projected to be approximately 20,000 square feet, so further study seemed wise.

Thank Yous

I was very pleased that in the end the newly adopted Master Plan reflected a practical and worthy vision which embraced the core values of a number of groups competing to define the Arboretum. There was common recognition that the botanical collection found in Washington Park is of international significance and great local value. And that it should be well maintained, expanded and displayed in a manner that would be well interpreted for interested visitors ranging from university students and faculty to school children, to horticultural professionals, their clients, and to casual visitors. And in the end the Arboretum will remain a park open to all to freely recreate in and enjoy in any number of ways.

Although there have been literally hundreds of citizens working on this issue for many years, to mention a few will hopefully not detract from

To mention a few of the literally hundreds of individuals who have worked on this issue will hopefully not detract from appreciating the efforts of the many but will serve to highlight at least some of those who have significantly contributed to this process.

Special Thanks To:

The Board of Park Commissioners, especially Margaret Ceis for convening workshops in late 1998, and Bruce Bentley, current Chair, for constructive review and recommendations on the final plan

The Arboretum Park Preservation Coalition: including Paul Gibson, Peter Staten, Nancy Knapp, Wallis Bolz

The Arboretum Foundation: All members of their Board and Deborah Andrews, Executive Director,

The University of Washington: Clem Hamilton, former director of CUH, Neal Lessinger

The Friends of Olmsted: Jerry Arbes, Anne Knight

The Parks Department: Ken Bounds, Don Harris, Peter Marshall

And all of the citizens who called, wrote and emailed the City Council to express themselves on this issue.

Keep in touch…

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