Will Everett mayor accept compromise to save Clark Park gazebo?

Feb 28, 2024, 12:33 PM | Updated: 2:16 pm

Image: Bayside neighborhood resident Jane McClure addresses the Everett Historical Commission at th...

Bayside neighborhood resident Jane McClure addresses the Everett Historical Commission at the city's Municipal Building on Tuesday night, the commission was weighing the City of Everett's request for permission to demolish the historic gazebo at Clark Park. Historical Commission Chair Patrick Hall is in the foreground. (Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

(Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

As reported last week on KIRO Newsradio’s All Over The Map, the historic gazebo in Everett’s Clark Park has been depicted as a magnet for crime and is now being targeted for demolition by Mayor Cassie Franklin. The Everett Historical Commission met Tuesday night to discuss the city’s formal request for permission to tear it down, and then offered up a strategic compromise instead.

The simple aesthetic and historic appeal of a gazebo, built during the administration of former President Warren G. Harding, which is still standing 103 years later, is in stark contrast to the complexity of the current narrative unwinding along the pathways at Clark Park, on the streets of Everett, and in the hallways of the Municipal Building.

Clark Park and the gazebo are in the Bayside neighborhood. The park and the gazebo belong to the City of Everett, and both are maintained by the Everett Department of Parks and Facilities. Residents from the Bayside Neighborhood Association often hold events in the gazebo, from Easter egg hunts in spring, to summertime get-togethers of dogs and dog owners, to Christmas carol sing-alongs in December.

Last month, in a Facebook post, which took a lot of people by surprise, Mayor Cassie Franklin announced the gazebo would be torn down, and an off-leash dog area would be added to Clark Park.

Why remove the gazebo?

“Over the past several years, the Everett Parks and Facilities team and I have frequently heard community concerns about Clark Park,” Mayor Franklin wrote. “We take these concerns very seriously and have spent time considering different options to address the current safety issues and reactive this space in partnership with the local community.”

According to subsequent comments by Simone Tarver, spokesperson for the City of Everett, both steps are aimed at reducing crime by removing a place where people take shelter – the historic gazebo – and attracting more park users to a much-wanted new amenity – an off-leash dog area. This approach is known by urban planners and public officials as “activating” a space to attract positive daily activities in hopes it will drive away otherwise unwanted and intractable activities.

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“While the Clark Park gazebo has been a valued community asset in the past, we’ve reached a point where it needs many costly repairs,” Tarver wrote in a statement shared with KIRO Newsradio. “With the support of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, the decision was made to remove the gazebo. This will enable us to expand the area of the planned dog park, which will be a great amenity for the neighborhood.”

Clark Park is on the city’s historic register and so most changes to features and structures there are subject to review by the Everett Historical Commission. The same would be true, for example, if the owner of an old movie theater on the city register wished to replace the building’s marquee. Details about the proposed change would be shared with the board in the form of a packet of information with photos and diagrams, and the property owner would give a presentation at a public meeting – the topic which would have been publicized and posted online in advance.

The Everett Historical Commission is an advisory board. They typically receive packets of information about discussion and action items days in advance of their monthly meetings, and so they come prepared to approve or deny requested changes to any building or place on that historic register. The commissioners are all volunteers, and they have very little actual power. Everett Historical Commission votes and decisions are subject to being over-ridden by the Everett City Council or, in some cases, by City of Everett staff.

City leaders discuss the gazebo’s fate

On Tuesday night, on what was apparently very short notice, the City of Everett Planning Department and Department of Parks and Facilities sought the Historical Commission’s approval to demolish the 1921 gazebo in Clark Park.

everett gazebo

The gazebo in Everett’s Clark Park is endangered now that Mayor Cassie Franklin has decided, without any public process, to demolish it. (Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

Historic Commission Chair Patrick Hall started things off by formally complaining about late arrival of background information on what the city was asking for.

“I would like to start by objecting to the fact that this was presented to the commission at the very last moment,” Hall said, apparently directing his comments to the lead City of Everett staff in attendance, including Planning Director Yorik Stevens-Wajda and director of Parks and Facilities Bob Leonard.

Hall continued, “This is not part of our packet and we did not see this until right before the meeting.”

The reason for the late delivery of background materials about the city’s request wasn’t fully explained, but other commissioners expressed similar sentiments and made the point that the city’s request was difficult to fully vet with no time in advance to review any of the documents.

There was also some procedural debate about the city’s request — whether it should take the form of a “waiver,” in effect waiving the historic significance of the gazebo so it could be torn down, or whether the city should seek a “certificate of appropriateness,” approving a change to the historic park – “change” in the form of demolishing the 103-year-old gazebo.

A waiver is more complex and requires formal Everett City Council approval, while a certificate of appropriateness only requires the approval of Planning Director Yorik Stevens-Wajda. For the gazebo demolition, Stevens-Wajda was seeking a certificate of appropriateness.

“I want to address quickly our decision to look at this as a certificate of appropriateness for a change to the site, rather than a waiver of a certificate of appropriateness for partial demolition of the site,” Stevens-Wajda said. “I think it’s a kind of a nuanced difference.”

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Historical Commissioner Theresa Gemmer was skeptical, and cited an Everett city ordinance in her response to Stevens-Wajda.

“It says that a waiver is required before a permit may be issued to allow full or partial demolition of a designated Everett register property,’” Gemmer said, reading from the ordinance. “So it doesn’t sound like we get to choose between the two.”

The issue of waiver versus certificate of appropriateness appeared to never really be settled during the discussion. Stevens-Wajda went ahead with a slide presentation, and he was eventually joined by Parks director Bob Leonard.

“We recognize that the gazebo at Clark Park has sentimental value to longtime residents who remember time spent at Clark Park with their families for community gatherings and more,” Leonard said. “However, the daily struggles of nearby residents must be heard as well. People who live near the park have eyes on it all hours. They are the residents who have to call the police and who feel unable to use the park or the gazebo because it has trash inside and all around it, (and) drug paraphernalia or worse.”

Leonard ran through a list of possible options he said his department considered rather than demolition, including building a system of shutters or gates to close off the gazebo to public access when it wasn’t being used for special events.

Even with those changes, “it will still be very susceptible to litter and or vandalism,” Leonard told the commissioners. “And again, the neighborhood really no longer wishes to have the gazebo in the park.”

Essentially, what Stevens-Wajda and Leonard said was the gazebo is a public nuisance and danger to the community and park users because its roof creates a space out of the weather which attracts unhoused and those suffering from mental illness and/or drug addiction.

To make up for its demolition and loss from the park, Leonard described a number of possible mitigation steps which could be taken.

“We could document plans, parts, materials and methods on the gazebo which could possibly be used in the future,” Leonard said. “We would like to preserve recognizable sections from the gazebo to include a potential future project.

“And we would like to create interpretive signs or signs with photos honoring the gazebo and the park history. I would love to see more historical interpretive signage added to the park to really celebrate the history of the park and the many changes that have taken place in the last 100 years,” Leonard added.

Leonard explained that fences, gates, and other elements might be designed to match the gazebo.

“Lastly, we would also like to incorporate aspects of the design of the gazebo into the dog park,” he said.

The meeting opens to public comment

When the meeting was opened up to public comment, Bayside resident and member of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, Jane McClure spoke. She said that it was with a heavy heart that the city and her group had arrived at the idea of getting rid of the gazebo.

“We never had an intention of having the gazebo removed,” McClure said. “I entertained extraordinarily exaggerated ideas about just how phenomenal we could make the gazebo and return it to the jewel of the center of Clark Park.

“And it’s just not feasible because the people who live in our neighborhood can no longer look at this just as the historical significance of this because even if it’s renovated, well, how are you going to maintain it? How is it going to stay pristine,” she added.

McClure also added that the Bayside group’s most successful event was a summertime “Bark in the Park” for dogs and dog owners, and an off-leash area would be a much-used addition to Clark Park that would help activate the space.

“We have 611 licensed dogs in the 98201 (ZIP) code, and in the Bayside neighborhood immediately surrounding,” McClure said. “According to the Snohomish County Auditor’s office, that is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of dogs that are actually in the north end of our neighborhood.”

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A few other Bayside residents also spoke in favor of demolition of the gazebo and creation of the dog park for essentially the same reasons.

One resident who asked not be identified (for professional reasons) offered an alternative viewpoint, expressing particular dismay at how the gazebo issue has been handled by the City of Everett.

“I would have hoped for this (meeting) to be transparent, something that was well advertised,” the man said. “That has not been the case.”

He continued, “And stating that the neighborhood doesn’t want the gazebo in the park is disingenuous. The (Bayside Neighborhood) Association doesn’t speak for everyone who lives in the neighborhood, and leaning on their approval rather than making this process transparent shows a complete lack of respect for the neighborhood.”

A woman named Deb Fox who was attending the meeting virtually also spoke. She has been working on a project to install interpretive panels at Clark Park, not unlike what Parks director Bob Leonard had offered as a way to – potentially and possibly – commemorate the gazebo should it be torn down.

“I sympathize with the neighbors and the riffraff that can go on that they have to witness,” Fox said. “But I’m really hoping there’s a way that there can still be a dog park and keep the gazebo, because in the end, the interpretive signage is not a replacement for that beautiful structure.”

The Everett Historical Commission votes

The commissioners’ discussion jumped around, perhaps reflecting their lack of advance knowledge. Some commissioners were clearly in favor of preserving the gazebo while others were a little harder to read. At least three of the six members who were there in-person said they wished they had had more time to review the materials the city shared, and that receiving those materials as late as they did kept them from being able to do their best work.

Several commissioners also expressed empathy for the problems with crime and drug use associated with the park, but were skeptical as to whether removing the gazebo would make any difference.

“I noticed when we were there that day that there were people sleeping under trees in the park,” Commissioner Theresa Gemmer said, referring to a Saturday earlier in February when an organized event was taking place in the gazebo. “So taking away the gazebo doesn’t take away the transients that are using the park as an area to sleep in. And so you take out the gazebo, and lo and behold, they’re still sleeping under the trees.”

Gemmer believes that drug users and drug dealers won’t be deterred simply by removing the gazebo.

“Now they’re meeting at the corner of the tennis court instead of at the gazebo,” Gemmer said. “But taking out the gazebo does not remove the problem of having people doing drug deals and whatever else in the park. And once the gazebo is gone, it’d be like, ‘Oh, well, I guess that didn’t work, so now it’s gone.’”

Hall agreed, and said he was simply not convinced that demolishing the gazebo would solve all the public safety problems. He then offered up a compromise that would increase positive activities at Clark Park without requiring demolition of the gazebo.

“Try activating the park first, try building the dog park,” Hall said. “And then, if you still need to demolish (the gazebo) a year or two later, if we decide that this is still a problem, then take another look at it then.

“But I think if you have 600 people with dogs that are in that park all the time, I think that’ll solve all our problems by itself,” he added.

Hall and other commissioners agreed with this approach, issues with the gazebo would still need to also be addressed around access and safety but the appeal of Hall’s compromise is it would not include the irreversible step of demolishing the gazebo.

Ultimately, the Historical Commission voted Tuesday night to delay the decision so that there could be more time to explore some of the alternatives, but also look into other funding sources, and perhaps convene stakeholders to pursue a workable solution.

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When the meeting was over, there were no City of Everett staff members who would speak on the record and city spokesperson Simone Tarver, who had attended most of the meeting, had departed. KIRO Newsradio asked for an official response via email late Tuesday, and Tarver said she anticipates “having something to share soon.”

In the elevator lobby, McClure was pleased.

“I actually thought this meeting went extremely well,” McClure said. “In fact, I was amazed that (the commissioners) listened as well as they did and had compassion for us, because I certainly had compassion for the gazebo.”

McClure and two other Bayside residents in the elevator lobby said they support Hall’s compromise to build the dog park first and give it a year or two see if that addresses the problem.

Whatever happens next, it’s likely up to some individual or organization to convene a task force, or working group, to proactively do the kind of planning, reality-based cost-estimating, and fundraising study that, so far, hasn’t happened for the Clark Park gazebo.

Another key to this possible compromise taking place is Franklin.

KIRO Newsradio reached out to City of Everett early Wednesday to request an interview with Franklin to ask if she would be willing to accept the solution that key stakeholders appear to believe is a smart way to address long-standing issues at Clark Park, and to preserve a rare and beloved piece of the city’s early history.

We have not yet heard back.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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