Advocacy group Protect Volunteer Park has issued a letter to Mayor Ed Murray and parks superintendent Jesús Aguirre, asking that the city reconsider holding a public hearing to address concerns surrounding the Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion project.

Constructed in 1933, the Seattle Asian Art Museum is in need of a seismic upgrade, a climate control system, air conditioning and fixes to access issues.

Protect Volunteer Park opposes SAM’s plans for a 13,650-square-foot expansion on the east end of the museum for gallery, office and meeting space, plus an education and art-making studio. The building's footprint would increase by 3,600 square feet.

PVP filed an appeal to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections' Determination of Non-Significance issued on March 16, which the group argues incorrectly assumes that any significant adverse impacts on the park and the historic integrity of the museum will be mitigated by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. Both the park and museum and any changes to them are under the purview of the board.

Protect Volunteer Park attorney David Bricklin sent a letter to Murray and Aguirre on May 8, disputing assistant city attorney Bob Tobin’s assessment that the museum expansion does not require a public hearing under the terms set by Initiative 42.

I-42 states all land and facilities held by the city for current or future parks and recreation purposes shall be preserved. Sale of that property or a change in its use requires a public hearing, according to the initiative, followed by the passage of an ordinance “finding that the transaction is necessary because there is no reasonable practical alternative…”

Tobin found that the museum is a recreational use, to “stimulate the human spirit,” and therefore its expansion does not alter the use of the park or museum, and is not prohibited by I-42.

“He didn’t have the benefit of our thinking on it,” Bricklin told the Capitol Hill Times. “We’re hoping he will take our assessment into account and reach a different conclusion.”

There was no deadline set for the city to respond, Bricklin said, and PVP will allow some time for that to occur.

Seattle Parks and Recreation communications manager Rachel Schulkin tells CHT the matter is being handled by the city attorney’s office.

“We’re king of just letting the process go through, with them getting any permits or dealing with any lawsuits,” she said.

A spokesperson with the city attorney’s office tells CHT an attorney in the Land Use Section is analyzing the issue, and will be providing legal advice to “City clients.” The office is unable to share that advice with the public or media.

“From our perspective, they declined to do the (environmental impact) study that the law requires,” Bricklin said. “They declined to do the public hearing that the law requires.”

Bricklin is seeking a summary judgment from the Hearing Examiner, asking that the city perform an environmental impact study.

“My guess it will go to a hearing, and a hearing will be interesting,” said John Colwell with Protect Volunteer Park, “because it will be both sides presenting their sides about impacts or no impacts.”

If the city does not agree with Protect Volunteer Park’s assessment of the law, Bricklin said a legal challenge in King County Superior Court could take 3-6 months to resolve.

“We hope we won’t get there, of course,” he said.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum closed on Feb. 26 to begin removing collections, furnishings and other items from the building prior to construction. That work is expected to last through August.

A lawsuit wouldn’t necessarily stop the project, Bricklin said, adding PVP could file for an injunction to put construction on hold.

“What we’ve kind of done is just shot across the bow,” Colwell said.

The Capitol Hill resident said he’d heard about the expansion “late in the game,” and was dismayed to hear about the loss of parkland.

Colwell said design charrettes had already taken place, and the meetings held by SAM about the project appeared to leave no room for adjustments; everything had already been decided.

“What I saw was kind of an ivory tower thing, where they say, ‘We know better than you,’ ” he said. “‘We’re the high-class art museum, and we have all the money.’”

A designated spokesman for the group, Colwell said PVP members are split about a possible compromise.

“Each person has a different view,” he said. “As a group, I’d say you’d have to find a common denominator; that would probably give you zero in terms of square footage of the park.”

The appeal hearing is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 7, at the Office of Hearing Examiner, Room 4000, at 700 Fifth Ave. That's the 40th floor of Seattle Municipal Tower.

Whether a lawsuit is warranted to obtain a public hearing on the Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion isn’t certain, but dependent on the city’s response to PVP’s request, Colwell said.

“We’re saying they need to take I-42 seriously,” he said. “If they skip that, we’re going to fight them.”