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Parking garage enters decisive phase for city

On the heels of ‘Streetscape’ comes another multi-million-dollar project.

When it comes to parking, opinions vary.

There are those who contend the city’s parking problem is overblown. Spots aren’t sparse, they say; in fact, on most days they’re readily available.

Opposing that viewpoint are planners, who say that parking is only plentiful now because private property owners – namely Town & Country and the Virginia Mason Clinic – aren’t so heavy-handed when it comes to parking enforcement.

“They’re not real aggressive,” said Chuck Depew, who is among those studying the feasibility of a downtown parking garage. “But as they make their own development plans, people could begin to see some impacts of that on street level.”

Enter the ever-contentious parking structure, the study of which is drawing to a close by Depew and a team that includes downtown property owners.

Their final recommendation, to be presented to City Councilors at a workshop tonight at 5 p.m. at City Hall, says the garage would cost between $12.5 and $18 million, depending on the extent to which the city partners with private property owners.

Also contingent on the public-private partnership is the proposed structure’s size, which based on the recommendation would range between 327 and 588 spaces.

Its scale has been reduced slightly from earlier versions.

Though still slated for construction just south of the farmers market, the garage no longer would extend east to Ericksen Avenue – as suggested earlier – though future expansion is possible, Depew said.

Its planned alignment would require the purchase of a narrow strip of land just south of the city’s property, to minimize the need to relocate utilities.

Plans for circulation and access to the garage have also gained detail since the group’s most recent presentation last month.

The cost of access points, including the construction of a new road from Winslow Way, are estimated at $1.2 million, and would need funding separate from the garage budget. The city’s six-year Capital Facilities Plan has earmarked $2 million for the work.

The use of the surface level of the structure remains a major factor in the overall cost.

For example, a 588 space garage would cost roughly $5 million more than a 477 space alternative, according to the recommendation.

The difficulty, Depew said, comes in weighing the need for cost savings against the desire for putting public space, rather than parking, on the surface of the garage.

In answer to questions by councilors, the team included land costs – estimated at $75 per square foot – in its most recent numbers.

Depew said it’s up to the council where the effort goes from here.

With its blessing, more detailed work could continue, including the beginning of a petition process that would establish a special assessment district for downtown property owners.

Meanwhile, there’s movement elsewhere in the downtown parking scheme.

Planners tonight are asking councilors for $12,000 in contingency funding to appraise three Winslow properties that could be used by the city for temporary parking during the coming Winslow Way Streetscape project, scheduled to begin in 2009.

If the deal happens, it would provide an estimated 350 spaces for downtown employees and construction workers.

Three options are being considered, two of which would involve leasing the land, though councilors last month appeared to favor buying and reselling the land later.

Revenue from the lot could help pay for the garage, though no firm plan is in place.

Councilors tonight also will decide whether to delay by one year parking regulations set to take effect Nov. 1.

Passed last fall, the code change reduced commercial parking requirements in portions of downtown from four to two spaces per 1,000 square feet of building space.

Many city council candidates have said they would favor remote parking for downtown employees.

Depew said the garage wouldn’t preclude that possibility in the future, though remote parking has its own challenges.

“It’s a hard mechanism to make work,” he said, pointing to cost and logistics as potential hurdles.

He said all options should be considered going forward, but the parking garage, in the currently planned location, is the most realistic long-term solution.

“If we’re going to do this, this is the right plan,” he said. “I’ve never known a community that’s happy having to deal with a parking structure, but it’s the most efficient facility for our needs.”

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Parking: a lot

City Councilors will deal with parking three times at tonight’s council meeting. First, they’ll review the final recommendations of the parking garage feasibility study. Then they’ll decide – as part of the consent agenda – whether to approve $12,000 in contingency funding to appraise three properties that could be purchased or leased for use as temporary parking. Finally, they’ll vote on whether to delay by one year new parking regulations set to take effect Nov. 1. The parking workshop begins at 5 p.m. at City Hall, followed by the regular council meeting at 7 p.m.

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