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Citizen petition forces meeting on Seattle Asian Art Museum overhaul and expansion

From the project's "geotechnical" report

From the project’s “geotechnical” report

In an effort to drive massive web traffic and create some sexy Facebook clickbait, we are posting about yet another Volunteer Park and Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion meeting. Yes, it’s true. Another meeting on the proposal to improve the 1933-built museum’s climate control system, perform need seismic upgrades, make the museum ADA accessible, and expand the facility by 3,600 square feet will take place next week after the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections was petitioned to hold a public meeting on the pending approval of the project in the city’s land use permit process.

The petition and its roster of signatures was turned in to City Hall on November 29th as CHS posted our report on the wave of opposing public comment submitted on the proposal by park neighbors:


With the 50-signature threshold met, the city will host the meeting Thursday, December 15th:

Seattle Asian Art Museum Land Use Public Meeting

In the meantime, public comment can continue to be submitted by email to referencing project #3024753, or you can speak at the Thursday meeting.

Saturday also brings another session hosted by the Seattle Art Museum intended to provide information to the community and answer questions.

The neighbors banding together at don’t think much of the SAM sessions. “Seattle Art Museum is having one of their community meetings where they present and advocate for only one option, their museum expansion plan,” is how the site dryly describes the meeting.

Art museum’s expansion faces review amid opposition from Volunteer Park neighbors

Following our late November report, the tide of public comment submitted on the project has tilted to a more even split between those supporting and those opposing the upgrades and expansion on the environmental grounds of the land use permit process.

CHS caught some flack in calling the areas around Volunteer Park “wealthy neighborhoods” so, to balance, we should note here that many of the most recent letters in support of the project are from technology executives who have served on the museum’s various boards, including this one from former Microsoft president Jon Shirley, a regular entrant on the Forbes “richest in America” roster in the early 2000s:


“This project is a distinct opportunity to both preserve this beautiful and historic museum, while also ensuring its ability to present the very best exhibitions and collections, grow family and community programming, and encourage even greater attendance by diverse audiences, now and in the future,” Shirley writes. “I fully endorse it.”


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27 thoughts on “Citizen petition forces meeting on Seattle Asian Art Museum overhaul and expansion

  1. I am a ‘wealthy’ neighbor who regularly approaches the park via the east, passing by the current east facade. This improvdment is a VERY GOOD THING! It comprises about 2500 sq feet of added ground cover, which is a quarter of one percent of the total 44 acres of the park. It is on the dark side, which sees few visitors who stay. It will improve the current unused blight on the north where the loading dock is. It will create useful public inside space with nice exterior facing views for the many dark and cold days. I can see zero downside for the neighbors or the community.

    Those naysayers make little sense other than a strong sense of indignation. They are a loud minority. So long as the process if followed properly and they are respectfully heard, they don’t get a veto on the benefits to the city, community and museum. Much has been written on Nextdoor for those who have access to the thread. Please engage folks and don’t let a small minority who have made a website have an outsized voice.

    This is not one of those many situations we face where managing growth and losing something is part of the bargain. This is a win for all. Nothing is lost unless one is totally enthralled with the current east façade and the 2500 sq feet of ground cover that a top tier architecture firm LMN is going to improve. Not to mention needed interior work. The funds are largely private from donors.

    Volunteer Park is a built environment that was planned and planted decades ago. Few plants or trees are native. The designers are long dead and it would be hard to fathom if they expected the entire park to be a mausoleum of their vision, never to be touched.

    If people really want to have an impact on the park, let’s focus on the reservoir, which was surrounded post 9-11 by an ugly fence, and which presently serves no civic purpose as unlike those that have been lidded, is not providing drinking water. And it is large, much larger by many degrees from the space in question.

    Walk the park. Look at the plans. See the current east façade. Bemoan the current reservoir. Share your views in meetings and by letters and hopefully drown out the minority who are trying to stop any change. In reality this is at best a massive improvement and at worst a non-issue.

    • Hear! Hear! I completely agree. A vocal minority is being allowed to hold this process hostage (at least for now). This is a non-issue and should be treated as such. Let the project proceed! (and find something more worthwhile to complain about).

    • Those pesky vocal minorities. Always trying to convey the truth and stuff. Like that the expansion is 3,600 square feet of park. Or that the Seattle Art Museum had contractors and architects lined up before the public learned of the expansion plan. Or that SAM has a well-funded P.R. machine and the pro-park folks have… a website. Or that voices far from Seattle are weighing in on protecting national landmark open space. Or that no one is anti-museum — they just want to see alternatives to digging up park. Or that Seattle’s Landmarks Board is generally skeptical of the expansion project because it pits landmark against landmark.

    • Thanks, DD – words of wisdom for this project and about a dozen other “controversies” happening in the city at any moment. On balance, this project seems to advance the public good, and I don’t want some websitted grumps to speak for me. Let’s make a decision and get on with the bigger stuff.

    • @john

      i call bullshit on your comments.

      “Always trying to convey the truth and stuff.”

      please, tell me what “truth” is being conveyed. and, stuff? can you be any more random or generic in your argument? that’s like the key argument this minority has about the expansion – because, land. won’t someone please think of the land? as you said, it’s 3600 sq feet, less than 1% of the total ~48 acre park.

      “Or that voices far from Seattle are weighing in on protecting national landmark open space.”

      okay, are those voices weighing in on this particular park space and the proposed use? is so, please, enlighten us with who these people are and what they’ve said. can you provide me with a link to their comments, a phone number or email so that we can reach out and understand their perspective? will they be at the meeting on the 15th?

      “Or that no one is anti-museum — they just want to see alternatives to digging up park.”

      the vocal minority might not be anti-museum but that would then make them nimby (and, yes, that is an apt title in this case as, like you say, the minority isn’t anti-museum, they just don’t want more if it in their backyard). and i’ve not read a single alternative from the opposition to this expansion other than, “we don’t want it,” – period. if i’m wrong, please point me to where those alternatives have been spelled out.

      in the end, the vocal minority is just that; vocal and a minority. and i hope that the people who want to see this expansion go through either send their comments to the parks department ( or show up to the meeting next week. DO NOT let a small minority have an outsized voice on what improvements we as a city should receive.

    • How do you know our voices are a minority? The majority of us passed a law: Save Our Parks Initiative 42, Ordinance 118477: All park land shall be preserved for park, boulevard or open space use and cannot be sold, transferred or changed from park use to another use.

      You pro expansion people are acting like little children who want your way regardless of laws and what the rest of us want. Let’s let the public really understand what is going on and then we will know who is the majority. At the moment it is not clear because the public has been left in the dark and there has been no real discussion… only what seems like a land grab.

    • @zeebleoop

      Not sure why you are calling “bullshit” on my comments, or what you think my motives are. Preserving park land seems fairly understandable, as does improving a museum.
      -You are correct about land percentage, but VP is not a large park. The same percentage of Golden Gate or Central Park would be over 2 acres. The museum wants to expand by about 18 percent.
      -The “outside voices” are from the National Association of Olmsted Parks. They wrote to our mayor, parks board, planning department, superintendent of parks and landmarks board on Dec. 7, going into passionate detail about this specific Olmsted park. (Co-chair Lucy Lawliss 202-223-9113)
      -I’ll accept the NIMBY label by virtue of geography, but not broader intent. I’d like permanent homeless housing or a museum in my back yard, just not in a park — any park.
      -Alternative ideas to the museum expansion are myriad. There has been no forum to convey them. That’s a big part of this issue: Parks and SAM have made little effort to present or entertain options. A lot of people value a public process that might result in a win-win. If you read letters to the DCI or Landmarks Board, you will find lots of ideas. For example: digging into un-excavated land within existing footprint, moving facade forward, building up, augmenting south structure, storage and restoration off-site and many others.
      What I will describe as bullshit is your claim to clairvoyance. How can you know who is a minority on this issue? I’ll give you vocal, but minority might be a stretch.

    • @john

      what does your first response have to do with anything? less than 1% is less than 1% no matter what park it is. it’s still less than 1% of park land no matter how much the museum will expand by. if anything, you show that opposition to this expansion is just a tempest in a teacup. the museum expands by 18% and takes up less than 1% of park land? oh my!

      per your third point, you seem to have an issue with any building being here based on your reply to @bob knudson’s comment here – from what i see in that comment and your one above, you’d rather there not be any building in the park – so you are biased from the start and i’ll take your rationales with a grain of salt.

      and no forum for alternative ideas? there’s a blog that your group created, this very site, there have been 3 meetings on this topic with another to come on 12/15. plus, you can pick up a phone, write an email or stop by any number of government agencies to present one or many of your “myriad ideas” on alternatives to this expansion.

      lastly, to my “clairvoyance.” i will grant you that my comment is based on anecdotal data from the comments section of this and the past two posts on this blog about the topic. from a quick count of the three posts, i see 16 people supporting the expansion and 8 opposed. 8 being less than 16 would mean that those opposed are a minority.

      true, i don’t have a petition to send to all my family, friends and co-workers to “side with me” on. nor do i have the time or inclination to set-up a website to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that most people on capitol hill (the city?) would support a less than 1% reduction of an under-used part of the park for the opportunity to showcase more art in the neighborhood. so, no, i can’t prove you are in the minority but neither can you prove that you AREN’T in the minority.

      all that said, i can see that your group won’t be satisfied with anything short of a complete abandonment of this project. so what more is there to talk to you all about?

    • @zeebleoop

      O.K. Looks like your goat’s been got. I am open about being a park purist. I am also eager to support the Asian Art Museum, which I value. I’ll let this conversation go.

  2. This is funny: “Seattle Art Museum is having one of their community meetings where they present and advocate for only one option, their museum expansion plan,”

    Because the Seattle Art Museum should instead, advocate for options other than the one that they are interested and invested in? They are holding a session designed to share their vision with the community and win people over, why should they do anything else? Sheesh.

    I concur with @DataDriven, above.

    The east side of the museum and the grounds immediately to the east that would be taken up by the expansion are little used. Which is not to say that the lawn further from the building itself isn’t used, it is. The museum is a cultural asset to our community and our city and we should allow the museum to invest in its improvement as it will be an improvement for the park and the community.

    Let’s turn our attention to other improvements, like the reservoir, like sidewalks and curb cuts and uneven path ways that would make it easier for people with mobility challenges to access the park.

    How about yanking that yardarm style flagpole from the far end of the reservoir because it is useless and obstructs an otherwise impressive view of the city and the olympics.

    • They could have, for instance, ranked their desired improvements and found out what the best option without expansion is. That’s in addition to their current plan, so voters could balance the interests of public space and museum space.

  3. The dismissive attitude of the pro-expansion folks is classic pretentious Seattle-ite.

    I’m against the expansion. I live in Capitol Hill, about a 15 walk from Volunteer Park, I am a renter and could not be called rich by any definition of the word.

    The pro-expansion group tries to paint the anti-expansion group as rich NIMBY’s, but it’s just a shifty tactic to damage the credibility of the anti-expansion group.

    I like the area of the park that’s east of the SAAM. It’s one of the few quiet areas of the park. I love Volunteer Park, and I’m not against changing the Park – but I am against any building encroaching into the green space – particularly when said encroachment that will be used as a private event space.

    • The space being proposed is not a private event space any more than the rest of the park. It is slated to be used by museum visitors.

      I have seen many a private event at the park itself. Private group picnics, weddings and more. Shall we stop these permitted uses?

      Your ability to enjoy the Park would be uninpeded by the current proposal. In fact, the new addition might provide a nice option to escape the rain and cold, while enjoying another view perspective.

    • Is there anything less effective in the world than a petition? In this case, and most others, that’s a good thing lol.

    • Check out this fake news petition. What an irresponsible, misrepresentation of the motives and objectives and slandering of those involved.

      If this is the best the petitioner can do, we need to stop listening.

  4. I, too, am a nearby Volunteer Park neighbor who rents. I value the restorative benefits of being so close to both the green space and the cultural space that occupy the park. My views have nothing to do with rich or poor, or denigrating those whose opinion differs from my own.
    Viewed solely from my hours of experience in both the museum and surrounding park, I support the expansion of the museum. Of all the places where the expansion might be located, the planners have sensitively chosen the best location, preserving what’s currently the most visible and beautiful parts of the east facade and grounds.
    Walking the area where the new addition is planned, I don’t find anything objectionable about the loss of a small amount of green space as a trade off for allowing SAAM the space to put more of their collection on display, and improve their educational and community outreach (the “private event space” is actually three floors of public exhibit, administrative, and community education spaces that could also host private events, I’m sure).
    The addition would require losing some green space, but it appears that it also provides a boundary for a garden-like area on either side; an opportunity for beautifying the landscape.
    Sure, I like wide open spaces to run with the dog or lay out a blanket in one of the quieter areas of the park, but this area also feels a bit neglected. I wouldn’t mind seeing some smaller scale plantings here, and the views from both inside and out put eyes on the park, and a better sense of connection and safety.
    If SAAM is going to remain a part of Volunteer Park, and maintain its relevance for coming generations of visitors, I think his expansion plan makes sense.

  5. I too am a not rich renter who lives a 15 minute walk from the beloved Volunteer Park and the back side of SAAM is by far the least inviting area of the park. The design of the addition is an improvement as far as I can tell and the museum sorely needs upgrades. I simply do not understand the uproar over this project.

    Just build it.

  6. Looking at the aggregate of comments against, I have a challenge:

    Set aside process and law and agree that the law must be followed or changed with regard to any modification.

    My question is for opponents to articulate with specificity how their own lives are adversely impacted by this specific proposal.

    Tell us with a straight face how often you have spent time east of the museum in the lawn, how long, and the change in your life that this 2500 sq ft or so ground addition will create.

    No discussion of slippery slope theories. Just the facts. And tell us with a straight face that you like how the current facade looks.

    Proponents including me have stated any number of positives for the park, public and museum. My head scratcher remains what the actual external negatives are. Not what may be going on in someone’s internal world.

    • I’ve got to go with slippery slope, literally. Last night people were sledding down that hill as they have been for generations. The expansion ends that. Agreed? I have old videos of dozens of families sledding there, with the wall of the museum as the starting point.
      If I had picnicked regularly on the landscaped hill top in 1930 before the museum was built, I would have felt a twinge of regret for myself and future generations. I’m concerned now for others if we establish a precedent of taking park land.
      The field behind the museum is used for picnics, capture the flag, dog walking, volley ball, school science field trips, photography, frisbee, pot smoking, napping, tai chi, wind sprints, painting, reading… I’ve done many but not all of those.
      These activities would be compromised or reduced by the addition.
      The expansion, as planned, creates a covered, 40 foot, fully shaded, north facing area. That will be where people sleep and shit. (Not necessarily bad, but a reality)
      The current east facade is horrible. It’s also a mid-century addition. Beneath it is the original design with rows of windows as you can see further north along the wall. It would be great to restore that, don’t you think?

    • All the uses including sledding may continue. This is a minuscule portion of the park. Look at the drawings and measure the east expansion. Perhaps 50 feet more or less vs. the hundreds that remain to 15th. If anything the addition and terrace will create a gathering place for sledding and similar celebrations where nothing but a very ugly wall currently exists.

      Of the mentioned activities the only one that might be at all impacted is a portion of a sled slope – something useful sadly for hours a year at best, and diminishing with global warming.

      Pot smoking may proceed unimpeded, along with all other pastimes.

    • For a few years I would take my dog, nearly every day to that area of park because it was private and quiet. The expansion will destroy this atmosphere and it will feel just like the park in the front…. all open with peering eyes from museum goers looking down and watching. And the nature vistas i relished will be mixed with building sights and light glare from windows.

      Do you think our objections are just to object. No we really love the eastside of the park and really appreciate it and we see what we love about it being taken away. I have no problem with the museum being renovated. It all the glass/windows and basic building intrusion into a tranquil nature setting which is upsetting.

  7. The space at the back side of the museum is unattractive mostly because it’s in the shade — of the museum — and Seattlites crave sunlight. Understandably. Putting a taller building farther into the park makes a new, bigger, shaded spot using up even more of the open space.

    • Oh come on, the majority of the Park is in the sunlight, and the proposed addition will not significantly increase shaded areas.