PORT TOWNSEND — A Port Townsend City Council special meeting took council members to the Mountain View Campus and a tour of the Port Townsend Golf Course before ending at its clubhouse for an often-testy 2 1/2-hour discussion about the future of the 58-acre property and the city’s decision-making processes.
The boots-on-the-ground visit on Monday came about a month after the council at its July 17 meeting rejected two concept proposals for the course developed by a stakeholder committee. Instead, the council unanimously approved a plan to have city staff and a consultant develop a third proposal based on the council’s priorities. Those included affordable housing, access for children and families, financial sustainability and accessibility.
At the Monday walk-through, Mayor David Farber, Deputy Mayor Amy Howard and council members Ben Thomas, Monica MickHager, Owen Rowe and Libby Urner Wennstrom were joined by close to 30 people as they listened to members of the stakeholder committee, who represent the YMCA, pickleball, dog park, golf and ancestral prairie communities. (Council member Aislinn Palmer was unable to attend.)
The stakeholders explained their constituencies’ interests and concerns when it came to alternative uses for the Mountain View and golf course sites.
The Mountain View Campus and its aging pool generated almost no discussion at the clubhouse sit-down.
A separate city initiative guided by a steering committee, Healthier Together, is in the process of developing a plan for replacing the Mountain View pool with a brand-new facility that it will present to the city on Sept. 5.
The emotional and substantive heart of debate centered on the golf course and a belief expressed by many in the audience that the council had already made up its mind that the city-owned property should be completely repurposed for other uses.
The council’s motion passed at their July 17 meeting excluded golf from the plan it tasked staff and the consultant, Groundswell, to develop. A motion brought by Thomas that would have included elements of the golf course was voted down.
Howard said the vote reflected the council’s desire to have more time to consider an alternative to the stakeholder proposals that were submitted, not a rejection of golf.
“We wanted more planning, more opportunity to have the discussion and, honestly, opportunities to do things like this,” Howard said. “The only thing that has been decided is that we needed more [options].”
Although housing was not part of the original scope of the stakeholder committee’s task to develop a concept design for the golf course, it became a part of the conversation through public meetings and public feedback. The council’s citing it as a priority on July 17 led some to believe that the construction of housing was a foregone conclusion.
At least a half-dozen people on Monday carried signs protesting using the course for housing (“No housing on our legacy lands”) and advocating it remain an open space (“Golf is NOT dead!”)
“If we don’t keep the golf course, how many houses are being proposed?” asked Joni Blanchard about the staff and consultant plan the council will review at a Sept. 18 workshop.
Director of Parks & Recreation Strategy Carrie Hite, who has been leading the Mountain View and golf course initiative since last fall, said there was no way at this time to know how many units might possible to be constructed because it would depend on the kind of housing — single-family or multiple unit — as well as where they could be sited.
Most of the golf course property is deed-restricted for municipal use, with an area along Blaine Street the mostly likely spot for any housing.
If housing was part of the plan for the golf course, Faber said, the land would have to be set aside for future construction because the city already has its hands full with other projects.
“The city is currently working on Evans Vista and we don’t know if that’s going to be a success. Cherry Street is already a black eye,” said Faber of failed public housing property. “It could be a decade or more to be considered at this point in time.”
A report prepared by consultant David Hein that was commissioned by Groundswell criticized both the city and the lessee, Gabriel Tonan Golf Shops, for the course’s operational, budget and maintenance woes.
However, he presented a positive long-term outlook for the course with suggestions for how it could become a financially viable venture starting with an investment of $315,000 in upgrades.
The report, a number of people pointed out, addressed the city’s concerns that the golf course operated at a loss and that improvements to its aging infrastructure were financially unfeasible.
“The Hein analysis is a very reasonable sum of money that turns this back into a self-sufficient city asset rather than another drain on parks and maintenance resources,” said Christina Albrecht, who is part of a group crafting a management and business plan for turning around the course.
“This will cost the city nothing and turns this not just into a self-sustaining resource, but a successful resource that actually can be bringing more money into the city,” she added.
The council was encouraged to consider its workshop an updated concept design created by Robert Horner, a Port Townsend landscape architect, that preserved most of the golf course while incorporating many of the elements public input had expressed a desire for, such as installing walking paths, increasing the amount of native prairie and providing areas for non-golf activities.
City Manager John Mauro said workshops were usually reserved for staff presentations but anything that was submitted, including Horner’s plan, would be included in council members’ meeting packets.
“All materials will be under consideration and discussed,” Mauro said. “No action will be taken, but there will be public comment.”
Wennstrom said she wanted to reiterate to residents and stakeholders that the council had no pre-determined outcome for the golf course in mind.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at email@example.com.