About 40 people gathered at the Edmonds Senior Center library early Friday evening to talk about an issue that seems to be never ending in Edmonds: parking.
Friday night’s discussion drew mostly Edmonds Bowl residents and downtown business owners worried that there is no parking included in design plans to renovate Civic Park field, located at 6th Avenue North. Not surprisingly, the conversation evolved into a larger discussion about downtown parking in general.
Former Edmonds City Councilmember Dick Van Hollebeke, who attended the meeting and also lives in the Bowl, noted that parking was identified as a problem during his time on the city council two decades ago, and will probably always be an issue.
Friday night’s discussion was led by long-time Edmonds resident Scot Simpson, who is spearheading a petition drive asking the Edmonds City Council to revisit the city’s Civic Park Master Plan. The city council is going to hear an update on Civic Park Field planning during its Tuesday, April 2 business meeting, and parking will be part of the discussion, according to the meeting agenda.
Simpson’s petition drive is also being supported by downtown developer Mike McMurray, who outlined in his March 26 My Edmonds News commentary his ideas for providing 58 parking spaces at Civic Park.
McMurray said his involvement began after he met with residents who were concerned about his proposed Main Street Commons development, which includes a mix of commercial development and public open space at 6th and Main. The residents told Murray they were worried about parking: Under McMurray’s design, the current 28 parking spaces located outside the former Next to Nature pet store would be reduced to an estimated eight spaces. McMurray said he was asked to provide additional parking at the location, and looked into the idea of underground parking, but once he realized the expense — at a minimum of $35,000 per stall — he decided it wasn’t feasible.
McMurray explained Friday night that his conversation with neighbors revealed numerous concerns about downtown parking, which is overflowing into nearby neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. These include a growing number of downtown bars and restaurants attracting customers, which means that employees who work in downtown businesses are parking in neighborhoods. In addition, many ferry commuters leave their cars on neighborhood streets for the weekend. As a result, the residents themselves often can’t find a place to park near their own homes.
Those experiences got McMurray to thinking about the lack of parking for another planned project that is likely to be a major draw for people arriving by car — the new Civic Field Park.
“What 8-acre park in the middle of the downtown, in a neighborhood, does not have a parking lot?” McMurray asked. “It’s like totally insane.”
The City of Edmonds purchased the 8-acre site from the Edmonds School District for $1.9 million in 2016, after using it with the district’s permission for more than 40 years. The city then initiated a community planning process to develop a long-term plan for the property. The Edmonds City Council approved that final plan in March 2017.
Park construction is anticipated to begin in 2020.
As part of the Civic Park planning process, the city decided — based on community feedback — to not include parking as part of the redeveloped park site. There are also restrictions to keep most of the property as open space, which are attached to grants the city has received so far to help pay for the estimated $10 million to $12 million park project.
However, McMurray and others argue that there are ways to add parking, and that it would be unfair to both neighbors and businesses near the park — as well as visitors from outside the Bowl who want to enjoy the park’s amenities — to not include it.
“People that are paying for the park…the 80 percent who don’t live in the Bowl, should be able to have an opportunity to get in their car with their family, drive down to the park and park,” McMurray said.
Councilmembers Mike Nelson and Dave Teitzel were present at Friday night’s meeting, and had a chance to offer their perspectives. Both councilmembers noted that adding parking to the current Civic Field Park design would require that a majority of the council vote to reopen the park’s Master Plan — a move that would involve increased costs to the city and also could pose a range of other challenges.
For example, the councilmembers pointed out that if the Master Plan is reopened, the public involvement process will have to start anew and that means many other ideas could be expressed that could change the already-agreed-upon park design by adding or subtracting other elements.
“If we open it up, it needs to be a fair process,” Nelson said. “Anybody who has an issue with anything related to the park should have an opportunity to express it.”
Teitzel said that since he lives next to the Civic Park field, he will be recusing himself from any vote on whether to reopen the master plan. But he also expressed that he has an “overarching concern” about citizens’ push to add parking.
“Very recently it seems to me that whenever we have big issues like this come up, the public comes in late in the process and says ‘Hey, wait, I didn’t know about this,'” Teitzel said. “It’s happened recently with the (Highway 104) sign issue and the Waterfront Connector, and now this. Somehow, the city is not connecting with the public well enough early enough to get this input into the process.”
Nelson said he had a different view, adding he believes the Civic Field process “was very public and we had a lot of public input. Parking was discussed at the public level and at no point did people really say they wanted to have it,” he added.
Some residents in the room disagreed, stating they did express a preference for parking and it wasn’t included, while others said they assumed all along the parking would be part of the design and were surprised to learn it wasn’t.
Regardless, most of those attending Friday night’s meeting reiterated their belief that providing at least some additional parking at Civic Field would help with parking problems that have been exacerbated by new business and residential developments both downtown and elsewhere in the city, including large multifamily residential projects now planned for Westgate and Highway 99.
Tracy Felix, who owns ArtSPOT at 4th and Main, said that since she opened her business in 2012, she has seen an increasing number of customers frustrated with the inability to find parking. As a result, they end up leaving Edmonds and shopping elsewhere. “I just wanted to put a very heartfelt plea to the city council — if you can get 58 spots, get the 58 spots,” she said.
During Friday’s meeting, former Councilmember Van Hollebeke said that while he liked McMurray’s Main Street Commons plan, the project will be part of the problem in creating traffic without adding parking. In response, McMurray replied that he would be willing to sell the current parking lot to the City of Edmonds and not include it in his development, as long as the city agreed to keep the parking free of charge.
McMurray also pointed out his goal in designing his development was “to bring more variation to the downtown and contribute to its valuation,” rather than having it become yet another multifamily residential project. He said that’s why the current design includes — in addition to restaurant and commercial spaces — an Art Alley for permanent and temporary exhibits as well as public areas to encourage community gatherings.
McMurray has suggested that additional Civic Field parking could be a boon to the community beyond the park, by providing additional parking for the Edmonds Museum Farmer’s Market and could possibly also be used for other purposes, like a temporary winter ice skating rink.
In the council meeting agenda for Tuesday night, the staff summary acknowledged “that parking was part of the discussion in the master planning process, at stakeholder meetings, at open houses, during the public hearings both at the Planning Board and City Council. The consensus of the community at the time was that the park property should be retained as public open space and not allocated to parking, or solving the downtown parking issue.”
Teitzel said it was clear that those attending Friday night’s meeting had two separate issues: “Should there be parking at Civic Field, and how should we handle parking downtown in general?
The councilmember explained that the city has launched a parking study aimed at addressing ways to increase parking around the new park, including the possibility of angle parking along 6th and 7th avenues as well as opening up the Edmonds Center for the Arts parking lot — just a few blocks away — when activities are not going on there.
“I don’t think anybody would argue that we don’t have a parking problem in Edmonds and it’s going to get worse,” a meeting attendee said Friday night. “But adding 58 spots at Civic Field isn’t going to solve the problem. I don’t think we should confuse solving the parking problem in Edmonds with the need to impact the park.”
At the end of the meeting, organizer Scot Simpson took a vote of those attending to determine whether the group should continue gathering signatures on a petition asking the council to include parking at Civic Field. The vote was 20 yes and 4 no, and the decision was made to proceed.
The group also agreed to deliver petitions and speak about the issue during two upcoming council meetings: April 2 and April 16.
Those interested in receiving a petition can email [email protected]
And you can see the complete agenda for Tuesday night’s city council meeting here. The agenda also includes a public hearing on the Shoreline Master Program Periodic Review, adoption of an ordinance related to aesthetics of small cell wireless facilities, and a financial update on the Edmonds Waterfront Center.
–Story and photos by Teresa Wippel