As a bogey golfer, and a lifelong resident of Port Townsend who has spent four decades as a volunteer and elected in city government, I have some familiarity with how consultant-driven processes …
As a bogey golfer, and a lifelong resident of Port Townsend who has spent four decades as a volunteer and elected in city government, I have some familiarity with how consultant-driven processes work, and how they can go wrong.
The process starts with an agenda and, usually, a subtext or two. It promises community benefit and often delivers. But not always.
Over the years we’ve lost many recreational opportunities, lifetime activities that engaged and built community. The bowling alley and the skating rink being obvious examples. When they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
The golf course process came with a canard; the idea that it was a “private club” and would cost $1.5 million plus to make viable. Neither are true. Currently, it is one of the most affordable public courses in Washington. It’s very much a middle and working class course. If you play there, you will be welcomed. Many of the suggested improvements are unnecessary and will only serve to make play more expensive. Cart paths, for example.
Every civic process dangles a carrot, in this case another beautiful park with trails, habitat, gardens, and happy dogs.
PT is a city of parks, walking opportunities, and trails. We have miles of functional trails and even more that are recreational. We are surrounded by habitat. When another park is built, it should serve our underserved younger families and be located where they live, in the western portion of town.
With little opportunity for financial return, the net costs and maintenance of the central park concept will be substantially higher than the status quo, even including course improvements. It will likely require a significant bond or a junior taxing district to accomplish, potentially jeopardizing the more essential aquatic facility. If left to ad hoc development it will quickly become an area of public nuisance, the tidy bowl of PT parks. An intriguing concept, fatally flawed by a lack of funding.
The consultants offer what seems a reasonable compromise, a realigned course with other public amenities located along the southern perimeter. A small play area, located miles from where most families with children live. A garden situated where southerly winds can spread domestic seed into our remaining native prairie. Trails leading nowhere, and a dog park, aka fight club. By eliminating the revenue of the driving range the city further undercuts the viability of the course.
The process conveniently ignores some legal peculiarities. The deed restrictions very specifically require the golf course property to be used for “recreation” or “aviation.” While these are subsets of municipal use they don’t give carte blanche to all municipal uses as the city manager implies. We desperately need housing but, as a matter of principle, housing on this property should be challenged. If not, what is to prevent the city from eventually co-opting the property for other “municipal” uses? For years the city has looked to relocate the city shop and police station among other functions. Replacing a failed park or golf course would make that far more palatable.
This course can be successful as it has in the past. If a compromise is needed, a far more interesting and superior alternative, one that retains course integrity, has been developed by a local group and should be seriously considered.
The course needs enthusiastic and competent management that has the security of a reasonable lease, time to develop programs and, importantly, continue to foster community. Yes, it needs and would benefit from investment. But even as it stands, it remains what the first course consultant referred to as a “gem” in the heart of our city.
(Mark Welch is a retired teacher, business owner, photographer and fourth generation resident of Port Townsend. He is a former member of the city of Port Townsend Parks Board, PEG Board, Planning Commission, city council and mayor.)