Open space, park top alternatives for golf course, survey finds

City staff to vet 3 proposals, present to council Nov. 2

PORT TOWNSEND — Most of the 830 people surveyed about possible alternative uses, other than golf, for Port Townsend’s nine-hole golf course want to see the nearly 60 acres of land preserved as open space or developed as a park with trails, according to an analysis of responses.

Alex Wisniewski, the city’s director of parks, recreation and community services, reviewed the results of an open-ended survey and other public outreach with the City Council on Monday during a workshop meeting.

At the same time, city staff are preparing for interviews next week with those behind three proposals to take over operation of the 136-year-old golf course when the current lease expires at the end of this year. None of those making the proposals were identified.

“Moving down both paths simultaneously has certainly been challenging,” Wisniewski said in response to a question from Port Townsend resident Aleta Greenway, who asked what the point of the survey was if the city is entertaining proposals to continue golf operations.

“The intention is to marry these two sets of information together so the city can make a more holistic decision on how to move forward,” he said.

Wisniewski said he plans to return to the council Nov. 2 “to bring forth the results from the full evaluation of the RFPs and likely some proposed paths forward for how we may chip this putt in.”

That request for proposals (RFP), which was open from Aug. 14 to Sept. 30, sought business plans that would account for some $1.2 million needed to repair facilities and the course’s irrigation system, which were described in a National Golf Foundation analysis conducted in 2018 and which the City Council concluded it could not afford.

And while the RFP sought proposals specifically for golf operations, it left open the possibility of incorporating other uses to achieve a financially viable business plan, considering the current operator’s declining revenues over the past five years.

Survey respondents often described a mix of alternative uses for the property, as well, Wisniewski said, particularly when asked about housing, the third most popular alternative.

“We did receive a lot of responses that provided multiple answers,” he said. For example, “utilize some of the property for housing while retaining some of it for open space and other uses.”

The survey asked open-ended questions about alternatives to golf based on five community goals pulled from the city’s comprehensive plan, strategic plan, and its parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t leading the conversation by providing multiple-choice questions with predetermined, end-result outcomes,” Wisniewski said. “We wanted to offer the community the opportunity to share their ideas unfettered.”

The PROS plan, which was adopted in March, was informed by a survey of 927 residents. Some 75 percent of those respondents said they never use the golf course. The new survey, conducted in September, had 60 percent say they never use the course.

In the latest survey, respondents who wanted to see the property used as a park overwhelmingly called for trails, as was also the case in the earlier PROS plan survey.

However, respondents also suggested other amenities, such as a playground, picnic area, space for outdoor events, disc golf, pickleball courts and other sports fields.

Asked about housing, respondents were split, with a roughly equal number saying it would be a good use of the land as those explicitly denouncing it.

Those who wanted housing overwhelmingly called for affordable housing, followed by apartments and tiny homes.

“Some responded, ‘No housing here; keep it a golf course,’ ” Wisniewski said. “Some of these did not give that much information, they just said, ‘Don’t use this property for housing; don’t build housing.’ It was that sharp and pointed.”

The question of whether to develop the land for business opportunities received a similar response, with many supporting business development but a significant amount denouncing the idea altogether.

Survey responses included quite a bit of repetition, said Wisniewski, who, along with fellow staff, “read every single open-ended response that was received and tried to tabulate them.”

Without details on the three proposals to continue golf operations, the council deferred discussion of potential alternative uses until its Nov. 2 meeting.

“We’re trying to make sure we have the full menu in front of us,” said Deputy Mayor David Faber.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].

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