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Group denied in bid to halt Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion in Volunteer Park

Before a busy weekend of Pride and cycling in the park, there is good news for one of a slate of major projects lined up to improve Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park.

The city’s Hearing Examiner has denied the appeal from a community group seeking to halt the $49 million overhaul and expansion of Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum. In a ruling issued prior to this week’s scheduled hearing on the appeal, Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner denied the group’s effort to require a costly environmental impact study for the project, reversing a decision from the city’s planning department.

In the ruling, Tanner writes that declarations from Protect Volunteer Park supporters including neighbors and community members Virginia Alleman, John Colwell, Eliza Davidson, Ellen Hecht, Randolph Umston, William Bakamis and a person identified as Sheilan “set forth sincerely held, but unsupported, lay opinion on subjects that are technical in nature.”

The group says it will continue to pursue its fight against the expansion, pointing to a letter from lawyer David Bricklin arguing that the expansion violates city code protecting park land.

Museum officials wasted little time following the June 5th decision with a permit application for the construction — “Construct additions and substantial alterations to existing museum (Seattle Asian Art Museum) and associated site work at existing park, occupy per plan” — filed Wednesday.

Meanwhile, members of the Architectural Review Committee of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board are scheduled to discuss a needed certificate of approval for the project on Friday, June 16th (PDF).

The SAAM project planned to begin construction by the end of this year has been designed to expand the 1933-built museum more than 13,000 square feet by extending the backside of the building 3,600 square feet into the park. The museum will add more display space to represent South Asia and India as well as fix infrastructure issues including a climate control system and seismic upgrades while making the museum ADA accessible. In February, officials put the museum project back in motion after a brief pause. That month, visitors also said goodbye to SAAM before a planned two-year closure for the construction.

Learn more about Protect Volunteer Park at For more about SAAM’s plans for the expansion, visit

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14 thoughts on “Group denied in bid to halt Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion in Volunteer Park

  1. I have an idea.

    If they are soooo concerned about the park space being lost, lets then remove the lower access roadway … turn that back into grass. Would be a net INCREASE in park space! Win-win-win … better museum, more park, less street, less cars.

    • Interesting topic about the lower loop road.

      So, on recent weekend afternoons, Volunteer Park parking has been 100% full, with the museum closed. The city’s growth has resulted in increased parking demand for the park and conservatory. But the museum expansion aims to increase attendance by 54% according to their traffic study.

      So, if the museum expands and a bad parking shortage results, what is the only way to get more parking in Volunteer Park? Reopen the lower loop to cars. More museum, more cars, means more driving in the park.

      Some of us want to go a different way. Volunteer Park is outside the urban village boundary and should not be targeted for added development. All the city’s plans agree with this. SAM is using this building for free and they can live with it at its present size with no party deck.

    • The lower loop roadway is part of the park in its current form. People walk, jog, run and bike on it. Why take that amenity away?

      I recently saw parents teaching their child how to ride a bike in a safe, car-free strip of pavement.

      A park is more than fields of grass.

    • Seriously you are going to use the sorry excuse for foisting off most the growth onto a small minority of residents (and thus voters) called “urban villages” to justify opposing a relatively small expansion of a park building in a corner that is already deeply shaded, usually soggy and rarely used.

      – and to use parking of all things – You know what the city is telling us… that we don’t have to worry about rezoning that allows large buildings with *zero* parking spots because people aren’t going to own cars – such total and complete BS! If they are soooo unlikely to walk or take readily available public transit to a local park they obviously own and drive cars..

      The whole city should absorb growth, not just the streets that are included in the rather haphazardly drawn urban village maps. “Some of you” sound like spoiled rich people that think MY neighborhood deserves radical change, but you should be protected from even small ones…

    • @CD Resident I see your point, not everyone is happy to be in the designated urban village. I am in favor of allowing more density in all neighborhoods including my own. But not in the park! As other places fill in, we need the parks to stay natural.

    • I agree with Timmy73. The lower road is closed to cars anyway, except for service vehicles. It’s basically a paved pathway for anyone to use as they see fit… need to remove it, especially to mollify those few fantatics who are opposing the museum expansion.

    • Not so fast Bob. This is Seattle and there is still plenty of time for the non-sensical to carry the day.

  2. I do not understand at all why some people think it to be sensical to take away park space. We will soon have more people in this neighbourhood, some living in tiny apartments (aka Amazon Cages), with no immediate access to anything green. These people will need more park and not less. As I stated before, the museum should never have been built here in the first place and it should not be allowed to damage the park even more.

  3. IF the petitioners were TRULY concerned with lost park space then they would graciously tear down their homes, plant trees and donate the land.

  4. Just to set the record straight, the hearing examiner got it wrong. Eliza Davidson who is a member of PVP is not a lay person. She has a long list of credentials for which she is qualified to speak concerning the park. If PVP wanted to, they could easily ask for reconsideration on this bogus decision.

    • Just because she is not a “lay person” by trade, does not automatically make her opinions any more or less technical in legal consideration by the judge. If her opinions were separate from the rest of the groups and used her (unassumingly) up-to-date credentials in validating her opinions, the judge might consider her opinions as an official opinion for technical consideration. But all signs point to her just signing her name, with the rest of the group, to a bunch of opinions that the judge deemed as “lay opinions”.

      I’m a registered, professional engineer by trade, but that doesn’t make any opinions I make, regarding engineering projects, any more or less valid, in a legal sense, unless I submit them as an official document, using my registered, up-to-date, engineering credentials. Otherwise, I’m just a lay person giving their opinion.

      My guess is she knew her opinions wouldn’t have any legal standing and might serve to tarnish her professional reputation and credentials if she submitted them as such, so she submitted them as a concerned lay person instead.

      So please explain how the judge’s decision is bogus.