Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Planning commission may revise downtown parking codes"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Additional study will determine whether changes are necessary

The Pullman Planning Commission will consider possible changes to downtown parking codes following an extensive study of the area.

During its Wednesday meeting, the commission asked city staff to gather additional statistics on the downtown parking situation, despite an informal study recently completed by Planning Director Pete Dickinson.

Requested by the commission in January, the study showed there are more residential units in the downtown area than there are parking spots. Dickinson's study, which was shared with the commission Wednesday, was not comprehensive and did not provide the exact number of bedrooms in each residential unit.

The commission agreed that current codes - which do not require developers to provide parking spots for residential units in the downtown area - can easily be exploited.

Recent development proposals in the Central Business District zone created controversy because fewer than one parking spot was proposed per apartment, regardless of the number of bedrooms. Pioneer Hill residents voiced opposition to the projects, which they believed would create parking problems that would affect their neighborhood.

Bill Gnaedinger, a Paradise Way resident, requested that the commission re-evaluate the downtown parking situation and consider a possible code change that would require developers to provide one parking spot per bedroom.

"Put the burden on the developer for a variance," he said. "There's a problem waiting to happen, and it's happening."

Commission Chairman Stephen Garl agreed it's about time the codes were revisited.

"I think it's worthy of a review," he said.

The commission asked that Dickinson and his staff collect more data regarding the downtown parking situation. Relevant information would include an inventory of the number of bedrooms present in downtown residential units, parking spots, potential development, peak parking hours and comments from property owners, business owners and residents.

Dickinson said the comprehensive study will not be complete until summer.

Commission member Jandi Utzman doesn't think more studies are needed. She said enough public outcry has been heard to know parking in Pullman is a problem.

"I don't understand why we would want more studies," she said. "What more could it tell us?"

Gnaedinger agreed. He said further studies are merely postponing action.

"The process of amending the code will bring out all other parties," he said. "We'll hear from them. We don't need another study."

Garl said any additional information would be helpful, particularly comments provided by stakeholders.

"To go one direction without gathering more information, I think we end up shooting from the hip," Garl said. "These are all people we need to hear from."

Gnaedinger said he expects developers to clamor for permits before any code change is enforced.

Still, he's pleased with the commission's decision to investigate a potential change.

"At least it's an action," he said.

In other business, the commission discussed the possibility of re-evaluating the city's urban growth area to incorporate a proposed annexation to the north and east of city limits.

The commission agreed that public input and a joint meeting with Whitman County commissioners are necessary to make any boundary decisions.

"I think it's appropriate that we get together (with commissioners) again," Garl said.

Meeting dates have yet to be set.


April E. Coggins said...

I think it's strange that arguably, the most congested areas of C-2 (general commercial) zoning are the only zoned areas that don't have a parking requirement for new residential buildings. The parking requirements should be applied equally throughout the city. If a mixed use development wants a variance from the requirement, the Board of Adjustment is available to waive the requirement. There are some circumstances that would justify a waiver.

WSUStretch said...

The key here is hearing from all parties and gathering all the data. It was mentioned at the mtg that 25 years ago no one (ok, a very few) people even thought about living downtown, and ANY expansion/development of C2 was considered positive. Times have changed and it appears an oversite in the parking is possible. Shared parking, time restrictions, and other factors have to be considered, and will be from what I heard. The amount of residential growth in C2 was clearly not foreseen or projected.

Tom Forbes said...

There was an interesting New York Times article recently on how some small rural college towns are urbanizing to attract students.

Storrs, CT, the home of UConn, and Conway, AR, the home of Hendrix College, are pursuing "New Urbanist" (aka "Smart Growth") projects. Quoting from the article:

"Buildings will be close to the street and roads kept narrow to encourage pedestrian traffic and de-emphasize cars. The neighborhood and its buildings are meant to recall the housing and shops built in American towns in the first half of the 20th century."

Again, putting aside my thoughts on "smart growth" and global warming, the empirical evidence states that half or more of WSU's 18,000 students live some 300-400 miles away. How realistic is it to think they will not have a car?

I'm the biggest fan of a vibrant downtown. Last night, eating at Basilio's, it hit me that now that Ken Vogel Clothing has closed, one whole block of downtown is vacant except for Dave Cuellar's barber shop.

I also like it that folks have a choice between a loft downtown or a split-level in a subdivision. If I were single and childless, I'd probably live downtown.

WSUStretch is right. We have to think about what downtown is going to become. Mostly business? Mostly residential? A mixture? I think parking HAS to be factored in, as well as the geographical constraints placed on a downtown area that is truly "down" from the rest of a city that is built on four hills.

April E. Coggins said...

I believe they are remodeling where Cyber Cafe and Ken Vogel were located. I don't think it will be vacant very long.
Oh, and the new ACE Hardware is now open.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

The city is supposed to provide parking for the downtown area. I think there are NO 24 hour parking spots which means it is not practical for someone living downtown to have a car unless it comes with the apartment/condo/whatever. it is too bad that Pioneer Hill residents halted the development of what is currently a pullman eyesore. Certainly their issue could have been addressed... at least as well as those homes on Stadium way that are adjacent to campus ie a parking permit system.

WSUStretch said...

There was/is real abuse potential related to parking in C2 downtown and any residential expansion downtown. (For reference, residential expansion in C2 is only allowed on the second floor or higher). Be careful, as downtown is not "owned" by the city, so parking is not "guaranteed". This is the issue being addressed.

Tom Forbes said...

I agree Bruce. Downtown needs investment by developers as we have seen over the past 5 years. I would hate to see them get scared off the way PARD has scared off large retailers.

Todd said...

I'd agree that there's a need to get everyone's input. One thing to consider is that downtown is one of the few area for small business "incubation." (and small businesses are the heart--emotionally and financially--of the American economy). Businesses downtown need to have available parking, esp. with the large parking lots that will accompany major retail development on Bishop.

And Bruce, just an fyi. A group of Pioneer Hill residents met with the developers--at our initiative--to try to work out a compromise. This was a week before the BoA hearing was scheduled. We actually would be fine with some development there. The funny thing is, after the meeting the project was pulled. And we have no idea why--we've never heard from them since.