By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When SDOT‘s last major review of West Seattle Junction parking resulted in this July 2009 announcement that it wouldn’t recommend metered parking, you could almost hear a huge collective sigh of relief.
That review had begun more than a year earlier, and months after the no-paid-street-parking news, ended with what we described at the time as “a relatively minor set of changes” – some tweaks to time limits.
But The Junction has had metered parking before – and the city’s new review has rekindled concerns that it will return. A lot has changed since the 2008-2009 review – primarily a dramatic amount of redevelopment adding hundreds of new apartments to the heart of The Junction – and some projects including fewer parking spaces than units, or even none, with the city changing its rules in 2012 to say that nearby “frequent transit” means parking might not be needed. (As reported here last week, those rules might be loosened even more.)
So with all that setting the stage, two SDOT reps were at last night’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting at the Senior Center/Sisson Building.. They weren’t the only speakers of interest – the next Junction park and a HALA update were part of the agenda too – but we start with the parking discussion:
JUNCTION PARKING REVIEW: Jonathan Williams and Ruth Harper from SDOT presented the briefing. Back in March, they talked with JuNO about taking a Junction-area Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) request to the next level (nowhere near a decision yet, they said). “We’re just getting started … with a lot of data collection,” Williams began, “and if there are to be any changes to onstreet parking,” they’ll be back to talk about it next year. “We’re really just on a fact-finding mission.”
An RPZ would be a “pretty big change,” he acknowledged, adding that it’s been many years since Junction commercial parking was reviewed. But that’s only part of what they’re studying in The Junction this time. They said three different types of parking studies are planned:
-Residential blocks – RPZ qualification study to see if residents or others are parking there
-Commercial streets – to see how full the parking is over the course of the day and how long people are parking
-Off-street lots – to get a picture of what’s happening in the privately owned free and paid lots at the same time, such as the Junction Association (free) and Diamond (paid) lots (but not, for example, Jefferson Square, though one meeting-goer suggested they take a look at that too)
Other ways they’re collecting data besides surveying parking usage: Intercept studies, talking to people on the street along California about how they got to the Junction, where they’re parking – “we’ve had a couple hundred responses so far” and it’s continuing a few more weeks. And he mentioned the online questionnaire featured here one night earlier, saying about 100 responses already had been received. (If you haven’t answered it yet, go here.) “Access outreach” continues through the end of the year, with findings expected early next year, Williams said.
What times of day are studies being done? the SDOT reps were asked A mix of time periods, Williams replied, ranging from 8 am to 9 pm. And he reviewed the various types of parking that are available around the city, noting again that there’s no city-pay-station parking in West Seattle right now. They are also interested in feedback such as whether more businesses need load zones so people can pull up, drop off, and pick up. The need for such spaces has grown since last decade’s parking study, he observed – more people are getting purchases delivered and more are getting picked up/dropped off via taxi-type services like Uber and Lyft.
Elaborating on the RPZ study, Harper picked up that part of the briefing. It’s the only tool they can use in residential areas, she explained; the only RPZ in West Seattle is in Fauntleroy, one of 34 around the country since the program began in 1979. “We use RPZs to help balance the demand on the right of way,” usually installed at the request of residents, to mitigate some sort of a “parking generator” (a nearby hospital or university, for example) where people from that “generator” are “flooding the street,” and they have some around neighborhood business districts. RPZs do not discriminate between types of residents, she stressed – whether you’ve lived in the zone six days or 60 years, whether you own or rent, etc.
RPZs usually allow two-hour parking without a permit. “To get a permit you generally have to live on a street where the RPZ signs are,” and that means ground-floor residences – an apartment building with ground-floor commercial would not count, for example. Permits usually cost $65 each for a two-year period – up to 4 permits per address, as long as you have 4 cars registered to that address (a small fraction of those in RPZs citywide), “and every residence is eligible for a guest permit.”
They’re doing an RPZ study here because of a request that came through JuNO, to study an area from 36th to 41st, Fauntleroy to Dakota. But it didn’t make sense for them not to study the area on the other side of California, and to the south, Harper said, so they added those. The threshold is whether the parking spaces are 75 percent full. Harper said they will be studying areas starting at 4 am. For an RPZ to be created, they need to have the qualifying conditions over at least 20 contiguous block faces. =
One of the people who requested the study said one of their goals was to ensure that people returning from work could find parking, and then for example go out on errands and come back. What hours would parking be restricted? Harper was asked. “We don’t know,” she said – that would be the point of the study.
Concerns voiced by attendees had to do with new developments with little or no parking but residents who have cars and have to park somewhere. “There’s a limited amount of space,” one man stressed. Williams reiterated that if an RPZ is created, people who live there, regardless of whether they do or do not have offstreet parking at their house or multi-unit building, would be able to get a parking permit. The people who would have to follow the restrictions set otherwise (2-hour maximum, for example) are those who visit the neighborhood for other reasons.
Asked about next steps – will residents have input after the study’s done? the SDOT reps were asked. Yes, they said. “We’ll walk (you) through all the data we collect,” once that’s done, Williams said, and then talk about options – that would be at a future meeting. (The 2008-2009 parking study included other components such as community walking tours – we’ll be checking with SDOT as to whether any of those are planned. And if you missed it in our Monday preview, here again is the city “fact sheet” about the Junction review.)
P.S. Later in the meeting, West Seattle Junction Association executive director Lora Swift took the floor and before discussing an unrelated topic, she addressed the parking study – saying she wanted to make sure that those on hand knew that Junction merchants pay $15,000+ each month to rent those more than 200 “free parking spaces” from “a private entity.” The Junction Association is a Business Improvement District formed for that purpose. She said her biggest concern is that SDOT will come back with a study recommending paid parking on the streets, so she’s had SDOT meet with the WSJA board. “It’s definitely at the top of my list to keep an eye on this parking study.” She said the Junction recently locked down a 10-year lease renewal for the parking lots, with two five-year renewal options, and there are “very limited” circumstances.
Other topics at the JuNO meeting:
Almost 400 people stopped by at the recent Farmers’ Market open house, and more than 300 replies have been received on their online survey. “We do not have a plan for this park” – they are seeking community input, said Edwards. They asked for community input on 36 different images (below) of potential park-design features – each person got to choose 10 that they liked the most.
The online survey now has been changed to show the choice of images, “a starting point for our designers” with the GGLO architecture firm, Edwards said. “We’ll be working on planning until the 2nd quarter of 2018, and we’re looking at building this park in 2019,” completing it by the end of that year, she said. She recounted the purchase (as reported here) in 2012, with 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy money, added Parks’ Susanne Rockwell, who joined Edwards in briefing JuNO, explaining the “landbanked” status of this and other sites.
Why no public restroom planned for the park? asked one attendee – “for almost $2 million (the development budget) you could put in a pretty decent bathroom.” Edwards said they don’t usually put restrooms in a “small neighborhood park” like this but promised to look at the option. The attendee noted that The Junction has no permanent public restrooms, but this could certainly be usable for people doing everything from playing at the park to waiting for buses. “It’s really shortsighted not to put a restroom in and expect the kind of density that the city wants for our neighborhood.” And yes, she said, she already had officially sent in that comment.
Rockwell said they’d had some trouble with people feeling unsafe in park restrooms, which as a result had to be locked. “Internally we were working to redesign these facilities wehre you can see legs and a head,” which led to people feeling more safe using the facilities.
Other questions had to do with design elements such as benches. Edwards added, “One of the other things we’re looking at is – how does the community really want to use the park? We’re very aware of what’s happening (with transients’ use of parks) and (aware) of what’s been successful” in addressing that. She mentioned parks elsewhere in the city such as Occidental and Hing Hay where they have dealt with similar concerns.
Rockwell talked about the city’s efforts to acquire more open space for urban villages, as they densify. In a side note, she also mentioned the Lincoln Park South Play Area situation and the closure that followed an inspection. “We will be embarking on the public engagement process with the community for a replacement structure” – they didn’t have funding “but have moved our priorities around. … The order in which we do projects is sometimes a little fluid.”
Back to the future Junction park, discussion included what counts as park facilities – whether it’s open to the public, fenced, admission charged or not, etc. Another question: What if the Bank of America building/lot adjacent to the new park site went up for sale – would the city compete for it? “We often are priced out,” Rockwell acknowledged. “We do have the capacity to “take” (land),” but they don’t do it often.
Much discussion centered on whether Parks should be procuring more greenspace for the Junction urban village. Rockwell stressed that when the Park District – which is funding the development of this site – was passed, a six-year budget plan was made, and they’re getting ready for another one. She suggested telling City Council reps that the community is interested in more.”That’s how the Seattle political machine works.” She also mentioned that for example Dakota Place Park – a former substation site – was a top community priority for the Pro Parks Levy more than a decade ago; it was acquired and developed.
JuNO LAND USE COMMITTEE: The final Environmental Impact Statement for HALA MHA upzoning is due any day now, Rich Koehler told the meeting. JuNO reps have a meeting with Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Rob Johnson next week. They’ve already spoken with King County Executive Dow Constantine, who Koehler described as “sympathetic” to neighborhood concerns. Koehler also mentioned the proposed comprehensive-plan amendments that are making their way through the city – including one that would potentially exempt the Junction’s single-family zoning from the upzoning, one that would do exactly the opposite and remove that area from potential protection. A city “open house” is set for 6 pm October 17th at the High Point Community Center.
WEST SEATTLE JUNCTION ASSOCIATION: As noted above, executive director Lora Swift spoke at meeting’s end. Her main topic was a request for help, related to a $20,000 city grant “that WSJA is currently using to ask about common neighborhood resources.” They hired a consultant and are talking to neighborhood groups about “what are some common resources that people don’t know about” – Junction Plaza Park, for example, and the concerns about people sleeping on the benches there. “You know what you do? You call 911” and report problems such as public urination, drinking, graffiti vandalism. “We’ll have an online survey and select interviews with people as well.” The eventual result, we found out in talking with her after the meeting, will be a West Seattle-wide website you can consult for information on resources that otherwise are difficult to find and/or figure out. She urged people interested in Junction issues to sign up for the WSJA newsletter, and invited people to drop by the “open door” WSJA offices over Shadowland. She’s at lora (at) wsjunction (dot) org.
WHAT’S NEXT: Ideas for future meeting topics? Fun events? Let JuNO director Amanda Sawyer know – admin (at) wsjuno (dot) org The group is now meeting quarterly.