Downtown Poulsbo parking: mission impossible?

POULSBO — Maybe it isn’t impossible to learn how to fly.

At least, that’s what Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said Wednesday night during a discussion about downtown parking.

The conversation was a double-sided one as the council and Front Street property owners discussed what types of parking requirements new developers and those undergoing a remodel should face.

Finding space downtown to provide more parking was likened by property owner Bill Austin to learning how to fly.

Both, he said, are impossible.

But that didn’t stop the city council from unanimously passing an ordinance that will regulate new commercial and residential developments as well as structure expansions increasing existing square footage by more than 50 percent. All three must provide additional parking to accommodate their customer’s needs.

The ordinance was sparked by an interim emergency ordinance that went into effect in March 2007 after a new mixed-use development slated for the downtown core planned to use the King Olaf parking lot as its primary parking space.

The council needed to make some sort of decision on the matter, as the interim ordinance was set to expire next month.

Wednesday night’s discussion also drifted to the overall topic of downtown parking, not just that needed from new developers.

Marion Sluys, who said he has owned property on Poulsbo’s Front Street for 42 years, said full parking lots are not necessarily a problem.

“Parking is not a problem, it’s parking perception that’s the problem,” he said. “I say if parking places are all full, we’re having a really good day.”

Sluys said he helped spur the Local Improvement District (LID) that paid for the King Olaf parking lot in 1986, and suggested to the council another LID be created to help provide more space. Penalizing those business owners who already paid into the LID and now want to remodel isn’t fair, he said.

Councilman Jeff McGinty said he didn’t want the council’s decision to negatively affect existing business owners, and felt a reevaluation of the parking situation was needed. If a problem doesn’t truly exist, he said, a solution isn’t needed.

“Is there a problem?” McGinty asked. “If the business owners don’t think they have a problem down there, I don’t know who does.”

Councilman Dale Rudolph said the city is currently planning a parking study which will help to provide necessary information as to how to approach downtown parking. Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said the study is in the works, but won’t be a quick one. Ample time to take in the various ebbs and flows of Poulsbo’s parking will be needed to make the study worthwhile, he said.

Meanwhile, councilmembers Ed Stern and Linda Berry-Maraist both championed alternative ideas for downtown parking.

Stern said because the downtown core sits wedged between Liberty Bay and a bluff, shoehorning more parking in will be a tedious task, but developing a parking impact fee for new builders and potentially creating a parking structure on the current city hall site in 2010 are options that should be considered.

Berry-Maraist said creating more public parking, perhaps by designating diagonal back-out spaces, will be more valuable than the addition of private business parking in the long run.

“I think there are solutions out there,” she said.

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