Issues with park(ing)

By Charlie Pancerzewski | Jul 17, 2013

Summer is here with the usual traffic jams and full parking spaces on the waterfront.

Mukilteo heavily promotes our waterfront, bringing thousands of visitors to Front Street and Lighthouse Park. Mukilteo took over the park from the state and spent millions of local tax and grant dollars to improve it, continuing its use at an annual cost approaching $200,000.

On Wednesday afternoons, the Farmers Market operates in Lighthouse Park. When parking is full, customers can park near the Rosehill Community Center and take a shuttle to the Farmers Market. Only a few people know about the shuttle and most want closer parking to load their purchases.

Also, on Wednesday afternoon, the Open Mic event occurs in the Lincoln Courtyard. Only one business in Lincoln Courtyard has a few spaces in the alley for parking. Employees and customers have to park on the street.

When Lincoln Courtyard was developed, the owners rented parking spaces from the community center in lieu of providing on-site parking. When Rosehill was demolished, that practice stopped. No alternative parking has been provided.

On Wednesdays the city pays a police officer to direct traffic and stop cars when the Lighthouse Park lot is full.

Weekday mornings, there are 50-60 cars parked near the entrance to Lighthouse Park, but the car owners are not to be seen. Where have they gone for the day? Many to Whidbey Island to work, play golf or sight see using free Whidbey bus service.

There are no time limits from 4 a.m. park opening to posted closing at 10 p.m. – not enforced until 2 a.m. when bars close. Vehicles can therefore park 22 hours a day for free without moving.

Downtown businesses are each permitted up to 20 free parking permits for their employees to park in specified street areas south of the railroad tracks near the community center. Those spaces usually have only 6-8 cars. Many employees who could park there park closer to their waterfront work, probably in Lighthouse Park.

Some businesses have some on-site parking, some do not. The Silver Cloud hotel is permitted 24 on-street parking permits 24/7. A 1998 change to the parking code was made to accommodate 24 more rooms than its site would otherwise accommodate.

Diamond Knot has no on-site customer parking and recently was permitted to double its inside seating – 196 customers and employees on site. This does not include their proposed outside seating on the Lighthouse Park sidewalk next to the park entrance.

Diamond Knot needs a 25-year easement on 1,100 square feet of park sidewalk next to their building to meet the building code for their expansion, according to city emails and published public meeting information.

The planned necessary easement was not brought to the City Council until construction was completed. When the state transferred the park to the city there were restrictions on granting long-term use to a private business.

A June 17 letter to the city’s attorney from State Parks says the city could request authority to convert the property from its current use to its proposed Diamond Knot use. State Park management would refer the request to the seven-member State Parks Commission for a decision.

The Losvar Condominium has on-site parking, and residents are also issued annual 24-hour on-street parking permits without charge.

It’s any wonder why there are often parking problems in Lighthouse Park and Front Street.

The council considered paid parking in the park last year, but decided against it as many residents did not want to pay for parking while already spending $200,000 annually to maintain it. Business customers would also have to pay for parking if a fee was imposed.

My recommendation is to implement a three-hour maximum parking time for Lighthouse Park and Front Street. After three hours, a car would have to leave or move to another vacant parking space.

If another vacant space was not available, they would have to leave so someone else could have their turn to visit the waterfront area.

This would eliminate the 50-60 cars that belong to those taking the ferry and effectively force business employees to park in the free spaces they have permits to use.

Most customers can have a leisurely dinner and drinks in three hours.

Businesses that want space for customers who stay longer could lease some of the 100 spaces adjoining Diamond Knot’s building that are owned by the city and leased monthly for $140 ($1,680 per year).

That is the value of space on the waterfront that many now use for free. The city proposes to charge Diamond Knot $16,500 ($660 a year) for the easement, which is about the size of 4-5 parking spaces.

Enforcement of a three-hour limit would obviously be required. It would require another part-time enforcement officer to cover the full days’ enforcement need.

After a short time, most of the non-park use parking would stop to avoid parking fines and enforcement time could be reduced.

The downtown parking code substantially reduces the number of on-site parking spaces that business developers are required to provide elsewhere in the city, often about half as many spaces.

After calculating reduced parking code spaces, the code further reduces required on-site spaces by the number of parking spaces on the streets abutting the property. The code often results in the on-site parking space requirement to be zero.

More business development downtown under these code provisions can be expected to further increase the parking problem. The code could easily be changed for future development.

The mayor and some councilmembers want a large taxpayer-funded parking garage.

If steps are not taken to change downtown parking, more of your taxes will be required for an expensive garage to fix the problem.

Charlie Pancerzewski served twice on the Mukilteo City Council from 1972-1973 and again from 1998-1999. He attends council meetings when he is not tending to his olive grove in New Zealand.

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