A lot of Vashon Island residents have felt besieged this year, and not just by the economy: The state ferry system, strapped for cash, contemplated drastically jacking fares and slashing service. Glacier Northwest started to replace an old dock at the edge of Maury Island with a new one that will enable it to develop what a local protest group calls “the largest gravel mine in the United States in the middle of Puget Sound.” And the King County Library System may replace the current library, in the unincorporated town of Vashon, with a new one a mile down the highway on the site of the abandoned K-2 ski factory.
Some people think a library move would be just fine, but most (80 percent) of those who responded to a recent Community Council survey, mailed out to registered voters by King County Councilman Dow Constantine think the library should stay in town, and most think the K-2 site would be bad. The survey just confirmed the sentiment expressed by most of the crowd that greeted KCLS director Bill Ptacek and his colleagues at a Vashon meeting earlier this year, and four hours of Vashon testimony inflicted on the library board during a recent meeting at KCLS headquarters in Issaquah.
The current library stands in a park, back from the highway, across the grass from the island's largest children's play area. The new site would be K-2's old machine shop, a late-1940s cinder block building with underground oil storage tanks that juts out into the highway right-of-way. The shop stands just northeast of the main K-2 factory, a huge manufacturing facility that seems anomalous on Vashon, where the largest employers these days are the school district and Thriftway. Anomalous or not, K-2 started on Vashon, and ten years ago, 700 people worked there.
Those jobs are long gone, and the old factory building has stood vacant for years. Private developers have a grand — some think grandiose — scheme for its re-use. Last fall, Constantine got the property rezoned from Industrial to Community Business, without going through the normal rezone process. Some community members who were neither stupid nor self-interested clearly supported the rezone; many liked the idea of turning an industrial eyesore into a community asset. But, many other residents didn't support it; they feared K-2 development would kill downtown retail, and would make a mockery of community planning. Some eyebrows were raised over the fact that four of the hosts for Constantine's recent Vashon fundraiser were the K-2 developers and their wives.
Some people see the expanse of unused parking space at the K-2 site as a reason to put the library there; they figure pedestrian access is irrelevant, since most people drive to the current site, anyway. But others told the library board in Issaquah that they walked regularly with young kids between the current library and the playground, and invited board members to try walking along the highway shoulder as cars whizzed by.
Of course, abundant free parking has helped make America a land of malls and sprawl. The state Growth Management Act, which is supposed to prevent rural sprawl, and everyone’s current lip-service to halting climate change, which would require driving less, both suggest that public facilities should be accessible to pedestrians — whether or not they choose to walk. The King County Comprehensive Plan says: “Rural towns should be compact, promoting pedestrian and non-motorized travel . . . New development should . . . strengthen the desirable characteristics and historic character of the town.”
Before the library system started negotiating with the would-be K-2 redevelopers, it negotiated with the Vashon Park District, which owns the land on which the current library stands, about putting a larger building on or near the site. Those earlier negotiations broke down. The local Vashon Beachcomber has explained, "the park board wrote that, since 'it disapproves of a remodel of the existing library building,' it would not give the library system a long-term lease at Ober Park.”
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