Magnuson Park Plan For Redesign Gets Council's Final OK -- Dog Owners Lobbied For Lakeside Off-Leash Area

After a lengthy debate that drew back-room dealers, big-wig planners and even barking dogs, the Seattle City Council has approved its final revisions to Mayor Paul Schell's plan for redesigning Magnuson Park at Sand Point.

Rallying behind the catch-phrase "active use," the council voted 7-1 yesterday for a resolution that substantially tinkers with the mayor's outline for a "great urban park" centered on environmental restoration.

The council rejected the mayor's plan to move the park's current off-leash dog area away from the Lake Washington shore, called for more sports fields to be built and bumped down the priority for construction of a lake the mayor had hoped would be the centerpiece of a large wetland.

Council members took pains yesterday to say they were not caving to the intense pressure from dog owners, athletes, conservationists or any of the other interest groups that have made planning for Magnuson Park a bit like trying to carve up one peanut-butter cup for a horde of hungry trick or treaters.

But Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, who delayed a scheduled vote on the plan last week and made an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to delay a decision on the off-leash area's location this week, said the council had failed to resist the influence of the vociferous dog lobby, which put up a staunch defense of the present off-leash area.

"There's a general public that I think we always need to bear in mind and not just respond to those who shout the loudest," Steinbrueck said.

Steinbrueck's comments raised the hackles of Councilwoman Margaret Pageler, who said it was necessary for the council to act as the arbiter in the highly charged fight over where to put the off-leash area.

"It's our responsibility to step up and make a decision," Pageler said.

Councilman Nick Licata, chairman of the council's Culture, Arts and Parks Committee, said his decision to vote for the resolution was informed by a belief that parks should cater to active use.

"I don't think we should be apologetic about shaping a park design for people who use the park," Licata said.

The mayor's spokeswoman, Vivian Phillips, said the mayor was pleased that the council had approved about 90 percent of his proposal.

"That is certainly enough to get going on a great park," Phillips said.

But, referring to the decision on the off-leash area, she added, "there is some disappointment in a vote that appears to be shortsighted."

The mayor's plan would have removed the off-leash area's access to Lake Washington and sequestered free-running dogs in a contained area with a man-made pond.

Ken Bounds, Seattle Parks superintendent, said he would have done a few things differently if the park-design process had been left up to him, but that he was excited to finally have a template to work from.

The next step also will include finding the money to make those improvements. Bounds has estimated that redesigning Magnuson Park will cost around $95 million and take over 20 years to complete.

Neither the council's resolution nor the mayor's plan address exactly where all that money will come from.

In the past, planners have speculated that the redesign could be financed by a mix of private donations, public funds and grants.

Eli Sanders' phone message number is 206-748-5815. His e-mail address is esanders@seattletimes.com