Lot closure gives new life to Ericksen-Hildebrand issue

Last month, business owners built a barrier in the lot that once served as an informal connection between Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane.

The closure was done for safety, owners said, since cars continually passed through the lot as if it were a city street.

But since the closure, City Council members say they’ve been flooded with e-mails from both sides of the decades-long debate over whether to connect Ericksen and Hildebrand.

That pressure may lead to the resurfacing of the issue before the City Council, said Councilman Kjell Stoknes.

Before that, it will go through the council’s Public Works and Transportation Committee – chaired by Stoknes – perhaps sometime soon.

Still, without any specific alternatives on the table, Stoknes isn’t sure how to proceed.

“I’m not sure just how far we can go without technical support,” Stoknes said. “It’s a little naive to assume that three council members can do anything without some engineering support and alternatives.”

No city funding is available for any connection until 2012 at the earliest, and Public Works Director Randy Witt said it doesn’t make sense to spend time designing alternatives unless the council decides there should be a connection.

For now, Witt said, the city is gathering information about the issue for presentation.

The PWTC Committee last dealt with the issue in March, when it was presented the results of a traffic study in the area.

The study found that 180 cars cut through the lot during a two-hour period on one particular day. It recommended connecting the two streets, but committee members tabled the issue because they didn’t think the study was thorough enough to warrant action.

The debate remained mostly quiet until access through the private lot was closed last month.

Fearing the closure would put political pressure on the city to remove the green space now separating Ericksen from Hildebrand, some neighbors are pointing to covenants at the private lot that apparently prohibit the recently erected barrier.

The covenants were forwarded to councilors by Debbi Lester, who has been an outspoken opponent of a possible connection between Ericksen and Hildebrand.

She said she thinks the barrier next door was an attempt to push the city to act.

“I just find it very interesting that (property owners) are choosing to go against their own covenants,” Lester said. “They’re forcing the issue to connect through the park.”

She said she’s offered several solutions, such as stop signs and angled parking, that lot owners could incorporate at their own expense to increase safety and keep the access open.

The city has no authority to enforce the covenants. That could be done only by businesses who share the property, and there is no indication that any of them object.

Charlie Frame, of CFA Properties, put up the barrier. He couldn’t be reached this week for comment about the covenants, but last month told the Review that the purpose of the barrier is to protect pedestrians in the area from cars cutting through the lot.

City officials confirmed the blockade is legal, and Frame said fire officials will have a key should they need access in the case of an emergency.

The lot will be subject to a different, albeit temporary, closure tomorrow when the Joshua Green Corp. – owners of the Frontier Bank lot and other property on Ericksen – closes access for 24 hours at its Wallace Way entrance. The company blocks off the entrance periodically for brief periods to prevent the driveway from eventually being considered as a permanent thoroughfare.

That closure will begin at 8 a.m. on Sunday and ends Monday morning. Frame’s barrier will be temporarily removed during that period, before being restored afterward.

Jude Fisher, assistant property manager at Joshua Green, said Frontier Bank has long dealt with people cutting through their lot, including cars going the wrong way through its drive-through window lanes.

She said she understands the frustration of drivers who can no longer cut through the lot, but agrees with Frame that it’s less dangerous with the barrier in place.

“It’s hard on a lot of people,” she said. “It diverts traffic. At the same time it’s really a safety concern when it’s open.

“We’re all just trying to manage our properties the best we can. And Charlie is a good neighbor.”

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