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City looks at quick fixes for parking

While a long-term solution to downtown parking problems goes back to committee for review, the city will look at short-term measures that can be taken now.

The leading candidate may be cracking down on folks who ignore the time limitations on downtown parking.

“I think we need to take a look at adding someone immediately to beef up our enforcement,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said.

The Bainbridge City Council last week heard a presentation from Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority representatives on studies the agency has sponsored concerning the viability of a downtown parking garage topped with 50-plus units of affordable housing.

The first two studies were positive, according to Roger Waid, deputy executive director of the KCCHA. The traffic study showed that the plan would ease congestion, he said, and the geological study showed that the proposed location on the south side of the farmers’ market plaza is a good building site.

But a third study, by real estate appraiser Anthony Gibbons, showed that downtown merchants wouldn’t receive enough “special benefit” – that is, benefit not enjoyed by the community as a whole – to support a Local Improvement District, in which nearby properties would be assessed to help pay for the garage.

Yet while Gibbons’ study scotched the LID financing plan, he also concluded that a big part of the downtown parking problem is poor management of the available resources – particularly the long-term use of scarce Winslow Way spaces.

Winslow Way parking is earmarked for two-hour use. But enforcement is sporadic because the police department has only one parking-enforcement officer, who must cover the entire island, including the city-owned lot at the ferry terminal.

Islanders are tuned into the times when parking restrictions will probably not be enforced, Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper said.

“We have pretty set hours, and parkers have learned what they are,” he said.

Adding another enforcement officer, he said, would “without question” get ferry parkers out of downtown.

“It’s not a total solution,” Cooper said. “There are still too many cars and too few places to put them, but it certainly would help.”

Another concern raised in the Gibbons study is being addressed, at least partially. Gibbons suggested that at least some of the downtown parking shortage comes from people who are making mid-day trips into Seattle, but can’t find any parking in the ferry-terminal lots.

“The buses do a good job during commuter hours, but there isn’t much between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” Kordonowy said. “Kitsap Transit is talking with us about more service during those hours.”

It is doing more than just talking. In February, Kitsap Transit revived the “Winslow loop” bus that travels through downtown and from the Bethany Lutheran park ‘n’ ride lot to meet the ferries.

And this week, Kitsap Transit began offering limited daytime bus service to some of the more distant areas of the island that were previously served only during commute hours. Mid-day runs will connect the ferry terminal to the Manzanita, south end and Battle Point areas.

“This will give commuters who need to come home early an option, and responds to needs we have heard from students,” said John Clauson, Kitsap Transit’s service development director.

Kordonowy is also determined to breathe life into a parking committee originally appointed by former mayor Dwight Sutton.

She appointed three new members – Chamber Director Kevin Dwyer, business owner Dana Berg and engineer David Browne – and wants a report from the group in three to six months on an overall plan for downtown parking.

The fact that LID financing won’t work doesn’t mean the downtown parking structure is dead.

“I believe there would be a broader benefit from such a structure,” Kordonowy said. “We should not rely totally on the business community for this, but might look at general obligation bonds.

“I am prepared to recommend an item in the capital facilities budget to study the alternatives, including alternative sites, and some money to help build it.”

The housing authority remains interested in using the site for affordable housing, Waid said, which the city also supports. As discussed last week, the structure would include about 50 units, in a variety of price ranges.

But while the housing authority can pay for the parking associated with the housing units it builds, it cannot pay for parking to be used by the general public.

“Somewhere, we need to find $1 million to finance the additional 50 or 60 parking spaces the city needs,” Waid said. “We will remain in contact and push the parking committee, but the city has to make its decision on this.”

Also left hanging is the question of what else, if anything, would be incorporated into the project.

The most recent proposal – for arts-related space, including both exhibition and performance facilities – has received limited support, Waid and consulting architect Bill Isley told the council.

That may have been a misunderstanding, according to Peter O’Connor, who has been involved in an ad-hoc effort to explore an arts orientation for the facility.

“We didn’t do a major canvass, and we dropped it because we wanted to wait and see what was going to happen with the financing,” O’Connor said. “But those responses we did receive were largely positive. And people on the committee with experience in fund-raising believed that it would be possible to raise money for such a thing through a public-private partnership.”

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