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Park plan draws lots of interest

Usually, about half a dozen people show up for the South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District’s monthly board meetings. Thursday night, more than 25 anxious residents packed the tiny room and spilled out into the hall.

Some were there to stump for the parks board’s proposal to allow development in part of South Kitsap Community Park; some were there to ask the commissioners to reconsider. Most, however, just wanted answers.

“If you’re going to do something like this, how do you know you’re putting in things that people want?” Ray Garrido asked the board.

Currently, the parks board is in negotiations with Prudential Investment Group for a public/private partnership it hopes will bring a fresh stream of funding to the cash-poor district. Prudential has proposed developing 20 acres in the southwest corner of the park and installing active recreation options such as a roller rink, golf facilities and meeting/activity rooms. Although Prudential officials have spoken confidently about the plan — even suggesting construction on such a facility could be underway in just over a year — the parks commissioners are taking a much more tentative approach.

“At this point, we really haven’t seen a formal proposal, but rather some bullet points that were brought to our attention,” said Commissioner Brock Jackley. “If this board feels it’s not appropriate, it’s not going to happen.”

He also assured the park’s current vendors the board had no intention of using the new services to push them out of business — a concern voiced by several at the meeting.

Some residents, however, were bothered by the artist’s renderings of the proposed development and the footprint of the project. Commissioner-elect Melissa Lund said she was skeptical of allowing a developer to raze 20 acres of the park’s trees because the park trusted him or her to always act in the park’s best interest.

“My cynicism says when someone brings their business into the park, they’re not doing it for the sake of the park — they’re doing it for monetary gain,” she said.

Resident Mary Colborn said she felt the parks board’s push toward commercial development was disappointing and didn’t give enough credit to those who could potentially be the park’s heaviest users. She suggested putting the plan on hold for at least a year and enlisting the help of area children, teens and retirees to find out what people really wanted from their park.

Colborn said the parks board hadn’t done enough to form partnership with other organizations — like schools — that had plenty of energy, time and enthusiasm to spare.

“I’m afraid we’re being so premature,” she said.

Other residents, however, said they weren’t in a position to put up such barriers. Most expressed strong concerns over the possibility of losing the park due to lack of funding and noted the steady deterioration of the facility. A handful said they believed allowing recreational development was the only way to save the park and create a steady influx of much-needed monies.

Currently, the parks board is approximately $50,000 in debt to the county, mostly due to election costs.

“You don’t have time to mess around,” said Marie Woods-Weaver, founder of Kitsap Live Steamers. “You need to support this and you need to do it now.”

Although no formal decisions were made Thursday, board chair Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said the board was heartened by the turn-out for the meeting. She said the board’s greatest goal for this whole project was getting community feedback and suggestions. Garrido said now that the board has a sense of community interest in the park’s fate, it may be worthwhile to set up more structured brainstorming sessions outside the regular parks agenda.

“It’s encouraging to us to see so many people come out,” she said. “It shows that people care.”

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