Pullman wrangles with idea of retail, condominium building near corner of Paradise and High streetswith traffic congestion and parking woes.
Todd Butler and his wife moved to Pullman’s Pioneer Hill because of its tree-lined streets and friendly atmosphere. He considers the area a wonderful place to raise a family.
Butler fears that a proposed 50-unit mixed-use development at the intersection of Paradise and High streets could threaten the area’s charm
“A project of this size will have an impact larger than any other,” said Butler, who lives on High Street.
The Pullman Board of Adjustment was expected to make a decision regarding a conditional use permit for the proposed project at a Jan. 22 public hearing. About 80 people showed up in opposition, but the hearing was granted a continuance when it was determined that Craig Beaumont of Palouse Design Associates and an active board member could not fairly present the proposal on behalf of Paradise Downtown, LLC. Justin Rogers, managing member/CEO of H and R Development, LLC, and working in partnership with Paradise Downtown, LLC, will give the presentation on Feb. 12.
Rogers said the project would benefit the downtown area. The development would provide retail space and 50 condo-like upstairs units ranging from one to three bedrooms. He said the combined residential and commercial space would follow the momentum already established downtown by developments such as the Towne Center and the Pullman Riverwalk.
“We bought into the idea that downtown could be something special,” he said.
Pullman Planning Director Pete Dickinson said downtown parking hasn’t been strained too much yet, as most development has been small-scale and some off-street parking typically is provided. But the city is aware there can be potential parking problems with any new development.
“Parking is a perennial issue downtown,” Dickinson said.
Butler argues that the Paradise development is not consistent with the city’s long-term vision for growth.
“There’s potential for this development to set a very bad precedent in the downtown,” he said. “The danger is that this will go the way of College Hill,” with high density development and substantial parking problems.
In the transportation chapter of the Pullman Comprehensive Plan, a policy is outlined to “require all new development to provide adequate off-street parking ... ” The housing element chapter dictates that “no new housing at any location within the city should rely on on-street parking.”
On Jan. 24, the Pullman Planning Commission asked planning department officials to start an informal study of the downtown-parking issue. Dickinson said the number of apartments in the downtown area will be assessed, as will the amount of parking for residential use and the amount of vacant or under-utilized land that could be developed.
Dickinson recognizes that the project’s site plan appears to go against the city’s comprehensive plan — on paper. The comprehensive plan is a vision for the city, while zoning codes implement proposed policies. He said parking does not have to be provided with any downtown development zoned C2, or central business.
Dickinson said from a planning standpoint, one parking spot per apartment — regardless of the number of bedrooms — is considered adequate.
“How the owner chooses to allocate those parking spots is a different story,” he said.
Rogers said he has tried to be a gracious developer and provide some parking spots when none are required. The original proposal was to have .75 parking spots per apartment. After suggestions by the city, Rogers now expects to provide one stall per unit.
“It’s the compromise,” he said. “We’re basically going along with it.”
Dickinson said the concept of downtown development is not clearly defined. The city is working to allow development while trying to limit congestion and long-term parking problems.
He said an “under-utilized” 57-space city lot on Grand Avenue between McKenzie and Paradise streets possibly could be used as overflow parking for the development.
Dickinson also noted that some developers have approached city officials with ideas for possible parking structures in the area.
“It’s something that’s flexible. That’s how the city would like to help meet the goals of the comprehensive plan,” he said.
Rogers said the proposed development’s units would be marketed as urban living. Residents wouldn’t necessarily need to own a car.
“It’s one of the things you kinda forego,” he said. “It’s the decision that the occupant decides if they want to be located in an urban setting. There’s not going to be a (parking) stall for everyone.”
“I think the type of people who live downtown are more interested in walking and taking public transportation,” Dickinson said.
Rich Koenig, a High Street resident, doesn’t buy the idea.
“They paint a very rosy picture of young professionals taking the bus to campus,” he said. “But this is a college town. College students have cars. They’ll park up here (on Pioneer Hill). It’s guaranteed.”
Butler said he worries for downtown businesses, whose customers will have to compete for parking.
“The influx of people have caused some real growing pains for the downtown,” he said.
Dickinson said he’s aware that increased residential development and an ever-present demand for parking could be detrimental to area businesses.
“Some people say if they can’t get a parking spot right in front (of the store) they’ll go to Moscow,” he said. “The city is sensitive to that and it’s something we keep our finger on the pulse of.”
Fritz Hughes, executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, said increased residents could mean increased sales from a business standpoint.
“I know that living in downtown has been a vogue thing to do. It brings a little vibrancy to the downtown,” he said. “It’s going to be an addition. It would improve that corner.”
Rogers said development can’t be stifled because of parking.
“I don’t think we should shut down development altogether,“ Rogers said.
Board of adjustment members agree.
At its Jan. 22 meeting, the board approved a conditional use permit for a nine-unit mixed-use commercial and residential project on the corner of Paradise and Daniel streets. No one opposed the project, which will only provide one private parking spot per unit. The project proposes both one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Board member Mark Yrazabal said downtown development cannot continue to be postponed.
“How long can we hold up projects like this?” he asked.
Yrazabal voted to grant the conditional use permit, with one caveat: “Parking has to go down as a potential issue, but maybe we’ll figure this out after a couple more of these (issues).”
“The risk isn’t to the city, the risk isn’t to the neighbors. It’s to the developers. It’s the developers who are taking the risk,” he said. “Are we going to put any positive development on hold until we solve this parking problem in 10 or 15 years?”
Koenig said it’s the residents who will suffer from developer’s risks.
“I don’t see an easy solution. But it seems reckless to approve without a long-term plan about how it will affect the area,” he said.
Butler echoed the same concerns.
“Let’s have Pullman be thoughtful of development instead of waking up two years later and having the same angry disputes like those going on up on College Hill,” he said.
Rogers said he hopes to proceed with the project as planned. Construction could start within the year if the conditional use permit is granted.
“With any project there will be positives and negatives,” he said. “The key is to mitigate the negatives and capitalize on the positives. We need to give people a reason to come downtown.” First of all let me say that I don't think the area will lose any "charm" by knocking down that old junky apartment building.
Secondly, as I blogged previously, I support this project for the reasons stated by Fritz above, IF they can get the parking issues worked out. A vigorous downtown is more desirable than a boarded up one. And why not have people live downtown, as the geographical constraints of downtown make it impractical for it to be a major retail center. We should always continue to welcome investment in downtown.
But ignoring the parking issue or banking on residents not to have cars is simply not a solution. If the downtown parking situation worsens, any economic benefit brought about by the presence of this project will be wiped out. By the way, this parking issue just further reinforces why BISHOP BLVD. is the only logical place for large development in Pullman, unlike what PARD would have you believe.
Pullman is simply not a good candidate for "smart growth" (nor should any place be really, but that's beside the point.) Pullman is not Manhattan or Portland. We're still a rural town in the middle of the wheatfields, 75 miles from the closest interstate. There is simply not the infrastructure in place downtown to live without a car, even for "young professionals." The closest grocery store is roughly a mile's walk in either direction. That would get old after a while, especially in this weather. Plus, Pullman is too geographically isolated. Sure you can catch a bus to campus or even to Moscow (for now), but what about Spokane or Lewiston for shopping or entertainment that's not available here? What about the recreational opportunities in the surrounding areas?
I'm ALL FOR giving more choices to young professionals other than a $300,000 rambler in a subdivision. But it is UNREALISTIC to expect they won't have a car. This development must plan for and account for that.