‘Central Park’ idea is fatally flawed

Mark Welch
Posted 7/19/23

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 …

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‘Central Park’ idea is fatally flawed


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.)   

central park, golf, mark welch, guest viewpoint


5 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • katie

    Please keep the Golf Course ! The least expensive option for the taxpayer.

    Friday, July 21 Report this

  • dena_o

    Dog park aka fight club? Obviously you have no idea what goes on at the dog park based on this ignorant comment. Additionally, the dog park gets way more use than the golf course on just an acre and a half.

    Friday, July 21 Report this

  • jonijobone

    I was so disappointed when I saw the preliminary plan the Consultants have been working on. The plan they were 'charged' to make up by Council and the Mayor - a Central Park Concept with modifications to include Council's priorities. This preliminary plan had over 57 housing units. A whole row of houses along San Juan smack damned on the Deed Restricted Property. Another one of the rows of houses land right on top of the row of lovely mature native trees along Blaine St. And, some were on future predicted wetlands (according to City's 2019 Comp Plan). All these houses may not end up actually going in, but, a plan with lots of housing will be presented to Council in about one month and 1/2 in September for decision. Suppose to be 'AFFORDABLE' housing, but ... hard to know how that many homes can be built and sold for $300,000.00 or less, or rented out for $1,200.00 or less (this is what a recent housing study concluded is 'affordable' with our demographic here in town). So much for deed restrictions or our City's declaration of the Course property as 'Open Space' in their 2020 Plan! No Stakeholder spoke up about those violations. Hopefully, our Council will.

    Saturday, August 5 Report this

  • MargeS

    "Deed Restricted Property" what does that mean, were there restrictions on the original deed between the golf course original investors and the City of Port Townsend? Does the city have a copy of the deed/agreement that is available to citizens?

    Tuesday, August 15 Report this

  • KWC

    I don't play golf, but love the golf course in the middle of our town. I believe it fits our character well. It's affordable, beautiful, and historical. The wetland, including pond, is lovely and where we used to catch frogs as children. The current proposed plans seems to be a solution looking for a problem. The city council appears to have latched onto an outcome they desire and are looking for ways to justify it and the extraordinary cost of it all. I believe that if they started with each problem they propose to solve with the elimination of the golf course, there likely is a better solution to each elsewhere. Do we need a new park? What is the data that suggests that? If we do need one, is this the best place for it? Who would it serve? Do we need more affordable housing in PT? Absolutely! Is the golf course the best and most affordable place for it? Likely not. Etc. Please save our golf course.

    Tuesday, September 5 Report this