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Originally published Monday, October 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Future of Bellevue parks in voters' hands

Bellevue Proposition 1, the Parks and Natural Areas Levy, would raise $40.5 million to upgrade sports fields, create new parks, put the finishing touches on Downtown Park, improve the Bellevue Botanical Garden and build trails.

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's not hard for Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger to envision how $40.5 million in park improvements and acquisitions could change the city.

A few weeks ago, he watched his son play soccer on a Robinswood Park field that is playable year-round because of its artificial turf.

Before the turf was put in, Degginger's older son played on the same field, which for months of the year turned into a sea of mud.

Bellevue voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to replace an expiring bond issue with a new, 20-year levy that would upgrade existing sports fields at Wilburton Hill and Newport Hills, create new small and medium-size parks, put the finishing touches on Downtown Park, improve the Bellevue Botanical Garden, build trails and buy land for future parks.

Bellevue Proposition 1, the Parks and Natural Areas Levy, would cost the owner of a typical $580,000 Bellevue home $71 a year. That's based on a levy of about 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation: 10 cents for capital uses, 2 cents to maintain and operate parks.

"Parks are a real jewel and part of what makes Bellevue a great place to live, work and play," said Degginger. "Our community has really honored and cherished the legacy of great parks that we have. The challenge that we have is to continue trying to find ways to acquire open space before it's all gone and also to improve the facilities that we have."

The levy would raise $40.5 million for capital purposes and $660,000 for annual maintenance.

Here is how the capital dollars would be spent:

• $10 million to buy lakefront property, natural areas and land for neighborhood parks;

• $6 million to develop a 27-acre Eastgate community park;

• $5 million to complete the circular canal and waterfall in Downtown Park;

• $5 million for new neighborhood parks in the Bridle Trails and West Lake Sammamish areas;

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• $3.5 million for a new park at Surrey Downs;

• $3 million for synthetic-turf fields at Wilburton Hill and Newport Hills;

• $2 million for group picnic areas and trail connections at Lewis Creek;

• $2 million for the Botanical Garden;

• $2 million for larger Bellevue Youth Theatre facilities at Crossroads Community Center; and

• $2 million to control erosion, stabilize slopes and improve forest conditions in the Coal Creek Natural Area, and for citywide trail improvements.

Karen Roper, the levy-campaign manager whose husband watched swollen Coal Creek wash away a footbridge last winter, sees an urgency to buying more public land.

"The parks are going to be here long beyond any of us," she said. "If we don't capture natural areas and undeveloped areas while we can ... they can't do it in the future."

There is no organized opposition to the levy, but the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) is investigating whether city officials improperly funded voter polls on the levy, passed on valuable information to the levy campaign and coordinated mailings with the campaign.

The Boston-based Conservation Campaign contributed $15,000 to the $50,000 levy campaign, and $5,000 each came from the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society and Microsoft, according to the levy campaign's most recent report to the PDC.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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