Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, February 29, 2008

"Pullman commission recommends parking changes; Developments with 10 or more units will require per-unit parking spaces"

Kudos to the Pullman Planning Commission for what I think is a very reasonable solution to a thorny problem. Despite what local "smart growth" advocates may claim, downtown Pullman is not geographically suitable for large-scale commercial or retail development. The commission's proposal still encourages modest development. And you need look no further than River Park Square in Spokane to see how risky a parking garage can be. I'm very leery of that idea.

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The Pullman Planning Commission says developers who build residential units in the downtown area should be required to provide parking for tenants.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the commission compiled a list of recommendations for the Pullman City Council to consider to combat perceived parking issues downtown. The most controversial item is a suggested zoning change that would require one parking stall per unit when 10 or more dwelling units are proposed for a property.

Commission Chairman Steve Garl said the 10-unit cap is recommended to allow for smaller residential projects, but set consequences for larger developments that may be “out of scale” for the downtown area.

The suggestions will be presented to the council for consideration March 4.

The downtown area — bordered roughly by State Street to the west, Spring Street to the east, Whitman Street to the north and McKenzie Street to the south — is the city’s central business zone. Parking currently is not mandated with downtown development, even if the proposed development includes living space — an issue some have said creates competition for spots between downtown retail customers and residents.

The commission followed recommendations drafted by Planning Director Pete Dickinson on Wednesday and decided that in instances when parking space is necessary, developers must choose from a list of options to fulfill the requirement. Options include providing on-site parking at one space per unit; providing off-site parking within 500 feet of the property through purchase or lease of spaces; a fee payment to the city to be used for future downtown parking improvement projects; or designated spaces within public parking lots, if such an arrangement is approved by the City Council.

If an existing structure is slated to be fully or partially demolished to provide parking space, the developer would need a conditional use permit issued by the board of adjustment to enforce design standards.

The commission also recommended city off-street parking lots be reviewed in regard to time limits and accessibility. Research regarding the feasibility of a parking structure, the possible creation of a permit process for downtown employees and consistent enforcement of parking time limits also are recommended.

“I think we have clearly made a case — over and over again — on the issue of enforcement,” Garl said. More parking patrols could make a significant improvement in downtown parking.

A 50-unit mixed-use development — proposed for the intersection of Paradise and High streets in early 2007 — spawned discussions regarding parking downtown. The proposal, submitted by Paradise Downtown, LLC and H and R Development, LLC, was opposed by neighbors because of potential effects to the Pioneer Hill neighborhood and area parking. H and R Development eventually withdrew its conditional use permit application.

Since then, stakeholders including area residents, developers and business owners have met regularly at commission meetings to discuss the subject and public comment has dominated nearly every meeting.

In November, the City Council was presented with broad recommendations from the commission, which included the possibility of a downtown residential parking permit program, and increased enforcement to discourage long-term parking. The council sent the commission back to the drawing board to conceive more fine-tuned recommendations by March. The council specifically wanted an opinion on whether off-street parking spaces should be required for residential projects downtown.

Rich Scott, a High Street resident, said the commission’s recommendations could keep downtown tenants’ vehicles from commandeering his neighborhood. But he still has reservations, since he would have liked to see a requirement of one parking spot per unit, regardless of the development’s size.

“I walk away with a sense that I’m not really sure if I didn’t communicate our concerns or if they didn’t hear,” he said. “Zero to 10 (units) with no requirement is of some concern to me.”

Scott said he hopes the city pursues more long-term issues, such as researching the possibility of a downtown parking structure.

“I really like that idea,” he said. “I think it’s a very viable option.”

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