SEATTLE — Seattle Parks and Recreation is canceling its proposal to build a new children's play area funded by an anonymous private donor at a beach park known as an unofficial nude hangout, a spokesperson said Friday morning.
The project faced growing opposition in recent weeks from people who have viewed the $550,000 plan as a discriminatory attempt to change the way the small, secluded space on Lake Washington has been used for decades, especially by LGBTQ+ swimmers and sunbathers.
Seattle Parks pitched the project as an opportunity to address a playground deficit in the upscale Denny Blaine neighborhood without using public money. But critics said they feared some neighbors and parents could use kids' presence at the playground to try to shut down the current use of the beach.
Hundreds of people packed a community meeting Wednesday night to oppose the plan for a playground at Denny Blaine Park, and more than 9,000 signed an online petition objecting to the project, describing the beach as an important space where LGBTQ+ people can feel safe, accepted and free. They pointed to other, nearby parks as more appropriate for a new play area.
"We are ecstatic," Sophie Amity Debs, who helped organize the Save Denny Blaine campaign against the project, said Friday. "We came away from the meeting feeling like there was absolutely no way they were going to go ahead with it. I'm glad the parks department listened to the community."
On Wednesday, an official said Seattle Parks would determine within two weeks whether to move ahead with the project. It happened faster than that.
"After hearing from many community members who participated in the community process on the proposed play area project at Denny Blaine Park, Seattle Parks and Recreation has decided not to move forward with the play area project at Denny Blaine," Seattle Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said in an emailed statement Friday.
"While this area of our city still lacks accessible play equipment for kids and families, we understand the feedback that this particular park is not the best location, and we will evaluate other location alternatives," Schulkin added.
"Many members of the public spoke to the importance of this space and use as a beach, and the cohesion it has brought within the LGBTQIA+ community," the spokesperson said. "Additionally, community spoke of the unintended consequences adding a play area to this beach site would possibly bring. This is why we have a robust community engagement process, ensuring all people — including those who have been historically marginalized — have their voices heard and perspectives considered."
Seattle Parks plans to meet with LGBTQ+ leaders "to better understand the importance of this beach to the community" and future hopes, she said. "We are grateful to all the community that shared their input on this project."
Schulkin declined to answer Friday whether the money pledged by the donor for a playground specifically at Denny Blaine Park was ever transmitted to Seattle Parks and whether it might now be used at a different site. The Seattle Times has filed a public records request for Seattle Parks communications that could identify the donor and illuminate how the plan came together; the city has said it anticipates providing such records in late February.
Debs, the Save Denny Blaine organizer, said it was inspiring to see so many people get involved with the campaign. She and others hope to start talking with Seattle Parks and the Seattle Parks Foundation about forming a Friends of Denny Blaine group to steward the park "and make it an even better place for the community" rooted there.
Sometimes it takes a moment of adversity "to show us just how strong we are, how many of us there are," she said, predicting that the park will be crowded next summer. "We're going to have the biggest party at the beach."
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