Two weeks after receiving a report on the needs of Cully, Council reviewed a proposal to address one of them – the relative lack of useable open space – with the Thomas Cully Park master plan.
The park is a 25-acre former landfill between Northeast Killingsworth Street and Columbia Boulevard east of 72nd Street. It ceased operations as a landfill in 1991 and was acquired by the city in 2002. It is generating methane that a disposal system burns off daily, parks planner David Yamashita told Council. The landfill is covered by a thin membrane and 18 inches of fill dirt. It would not be safe to place a heavy structure on the property for at least ten years, although the plan calls eventually for restrooms, he said. However, he added, “Many parks and even neighborhoods have been built on similar land, so there are no safety hazards.”
Other constraints are that the land is separated from Cully’s main residential area by the Killingsworth arterial, and is surrounded by industrial uses, some multi-family housing and a trailer park. Yet another issue is a lack of funding for the proposed improvements.
The master plan contains two options. Both contain similar elements – two soccer fields, two baseball fields, two picnic shelters, an off-leash dog run, a young children’s play area, a community gathering space and a system of walking trails, in slightly different sizes and spaces. The main difference between the two is that Option Two calls for acquisition of some of the private industrial and residential property that currently separates the land from Killingsworth. This would allow the entrance to a proposed parking lot to be moved from Northeast 75th Street to 76th, further from a signal at 72nd and more to the liking of City traffic engineers. The total build-out cost for Option One would range from $11 million to $16 million, of Option Two $13 to $18 million.
During testimony last month, the only controversy concerned a use issue at another park facility. The plan said that the ball fields could serve as a “replacement” location for the Lakeside Little League, which currently plays on a field next to the Whitaker Pond natural area east of Northeast 47th Avenue. Park planners consider this co-location problematical, while little league leaders made it clear they want to stay where they are. Supporter Jeff Ley told Council, “We need a concession stand to raise money, and to share it with other groups would be a headache. We support the (proposed) park and field in general, but calling it a ‘replacement’ rubs people the wrong way.”
Another supporter, Curtis Falco, said, “Until we find something equal or better, we will stay in our current location.” Colwood Golf Course, immediately to the north, would be acceptable if it ever became a park, he said, but “I don’t think Cully Park is an adequate replacement.”
The testimony was otherwise positive. Virginia Salinas, a program development specialist for Multnomah County stationed in the Baltazar Ortiz Community Center, and Jean Hand of the Portland Youth Soccer League, both said soccer fields would be a great addition to the community. Salinas said area children now play the sport in parking lots for want of something better. “We need a place for kids to run wild,” she said.
Planner Debbie Bischoff, referring to her own Cully-Concordia Community Assessment (see above), said, “It’s great to see one of the community’s top priorities addressed. This moves us a long way toward addressing Cully’s park deficiency.”
Rich Gunderson, former Multnomah County Commissioner and Cully neighborhood representative, said, “This is a tremendous plan, and the park will be a tremendous asset to the community.” He asked for “consideration for future funding so that we can develop it.”
Donita Fry of the Native American Youth Family Center, asked for interpretive signs depicting the Native American civilization that used to occupy the area. She also said that such a park could be a catalyst for economic development.
Commissioner Nick Fish said that, with this new park, the possibilities of the old Whitaker-Adams School site and Council’s decision to keep Colwood Golf Course zoned for open space, “We have an historic opportunity to get it right here. All we’re short on is money, but I’m convinced we have the will.”
Commissioner Dan Saltzman thanked Mayor Tom Potter for providing funding for the plan. It will allow the Park Bureau to seeking funding outside the city General Fund “to make this a reality,” he said.
Potter said, “I’m just so happy for the Cully neighborhood. They’re nothing if not persistent, and in this world you have to be. When I walk around Cully, I’m impressed by all the beautiful children there. We’d be remiss if we didn’t provide them a park.”