A hankering for their own patch of green

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

LYNNWOOD — Julie Perrine stands at a chain-link gate, looking at the fields and trees on the other side, and envisions a park.

She and other activists in her central Snohomish County neighborhood have lobbied the county to buy this sliver of land as a refuge from the dozens of homes and empty lots squeezing in from all sides. So far, they have had little luck.

But Perrine hopes a new park-buying initiative being considered by the county council could jump-start their effort.

"My goal in life is to be able to walk with Camille to a park," Perrine said as she looked down at her 3-year-old daughter sitting in a stroller.

The council in recent weeks has revised County Executive Bob Drewel’s 2001 budget in hopes of speeding the county’s response to fast-paced development. The centerpiece is a proposal to borrow roughly $17 million to buy park land in urbanized areas and to create detailed plans to manage water runoff.

"More parks" has been a rallying cry among residents concerned about the pace of growth. And the $5 million parks portion of the loan signals a shift in county policy toward neighborhood parks in urban areas.

"It’s something we have not been real aggressive on because it has not been one of our traditional roles," said Ron Martin, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Council staffers devised the borrowing plan in response to concerns that the county needed to more aggressively build infrastructure to deal with growth.

"We feel like we’re moving too slow; we’re behind the curve of growth," County Councilman Dave Somers said.

Budget officials from the executive’s side have voiced little opposition to the new funding plan.

"We all think it’s a good concept," county finance director Dan Clements said.

County Councilman Gary Nelson, however, questioned spending money on a new parks program at a time when the county’s road construction budget could lose millions of dollars because of the passage of Initiative 722.

County budget officials estimate the amount at $3 million.

The statewide initiative, which is being challenged in court, would roll back property taxes and cap future increases to 2 percent. Drewel’s budget had called for a 6 percent increase in the portion of the property tax used for road construction.

"I still believe that most people in Snohomish County are extremely concerned about transportation corridors," Nelson said.

Borrowing the money, which governments do by issuing bonds, enables the county to get a large chunk of money immediately and repay it over many years.

The money for the parks portion comes from new, higher forecasts for revenues from sales, gambling and liquor taxes totaling $500,000 per year, Gossett said.

The water management portion would come from about $1.1 million in real estate sales taxes collected each year. That money was already earmarked for similar efforts, but not for paying off the loans, Gossett said.

Borrowing can bring extra costs, largely from interest payments. But Gossett predicted those costs would be offset by savings when the county buys land or pays for work before those costs rise in later years.

The parks purchasing could bring the density of parks in county areas more in line with the requirements of neighboring cities.

In the southwest county’s urban areas around cities — known as urban growth areas — there are two acres of community and neighborhood parks for every 1,000 people. Nearby cities such as Lynnwood and Mill Creek require five acres or more of parks for every 1,000 people.

"If we’re urban, we shouldn’t have to get in our cars and drive to hell and gone to go to a park," said Patti Bourgault, who lives near Perrine in a neighborhood squeezed between Mill Creek and Lynnwood. Both are active members of a citizens group called the South Snohomish County Preservation Association.

Exactly who would benefit, however, is unclear. County officials don’t have a list of properties they want to buy, an estimate of how many acres the $5 million would purchase, or how they will draw residents into the process of choosing good spots for parks.

"If we have a concern at all it’s that that’s going to be a process that we’re going to have to go through," Martin said of choosing the park candidates.

Gosset said the plan is for neighborhood parks roughly five acres or smaller, all within urban growth areas. The money will cover largely the cost of buying the land, and pay for little construction work, he said. Some of the land may be set aside for future parks, he said.

The vagueness sounds some alarm bells with Perrine, who said the county in the past has promised funding that never materialized.

But it still revived her hope that the county could purchase the land near her house.

Friday morning, amid the roar of backhoes and dump trucks rising from a nearby development, Perrine spoke of walking with her daughter from their house to the park, rather than making the several-mile drive to the nearest park.

"We can visualize this," she said.

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