Will RPZ solve Wallingford parking problem?

More than 50 Wallingford residents crowded the Wallingford Community Council's meeting to standing-room-only Feb. 7, drawn by a discussion about Residential Parking Zones (RPZs) for their neighborhood.

The discussion specifically focused on the area from North 35th and 42nd streets between Stone Way North and Ashworth Avenue North. That includes both sides of all the streets and avenues bordering or within the area except Stone Way. Major arterials are not included in RPZs, so Stone Way is not included, although it forms the west boundary for the zone.

The zones restrict long-term parking by non-residents in residential areas through permit stickers that exempt resident-owned cars from posted parking time limits. That reduces the amount of time others can park in the neighborhood without risking a parking ticket.

All residents of a resident parking zone are eligible to acquire parking permits for each vehicle they have registered, but there is a cost: $35 for each permit every two years. The permit renewal is on a regular cycle - they all expire at the same time - and are not pro-rated.

Businesses are not considered residents and are not eligible for permits. However, residents on Stone Way, surrounded by the zone, including residents in the 26 condominiums proposed for the area above the new QFC grocery, are eligible for permits.

Employee parking

The impetus for the discussion, according to the outspoken residents present at the meeting, is that the neighborhood is overrun with employee parking from businesses on Stone Way.

A business that was specifically mentioned is the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, 3670 Stone Way N.

Bastyr, which calls itself "the largest natural health clinic in Washington" on its website, has underground parking, but the on-premises parking is restricted by Bastyr to clinic patients. Faculty and students (it is the teaching clinic for Bastyr University) must find parking space elsewhere. A result of that is the employees, and especially the students, contribute greatly to parking congestion in the adjoining neighborhood.

Neighbors said that the already-severe parking congestion became noticeably worse two to three years ago, about the time Bastyr located its clinic on Stone Way.

A Stone Way businessman told the group that he employs 28 people, all of whom drive cars. He is currently renting an open lot for his employees at $500 per month, but the owner plans to develop the lot within the next couple of years.

Bastyr representatives said they have been looking into parking, too, but what is available is not economically feasible for them. They said the students feel the need to drive to the clinic because it is necessary to move between the clinic and Bastyr Uni-versity's Kenmore campus during the day. The clinic is looking into a shuttle service for the students.

"We are looking for solutions," said the Bastyr representatives. They offered to meet with neighbors to discuss the parking problem.

Nonetheless, the neighborhood parking is filled with other business employees as well, and one company is claimed to be parking commercial vehicles in the neighborhood illegally.

Community cooperation

RPZ eligibility is determined by city parking surveys. The city counts the number of vehicles that are on the streets of the area at 4:30 a.m. on a weekday, using that number as a baseline, assuming those cars belong to residents. Then the number of cars is counted at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m the same day, and license-plate numbers are compared.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)'s Julie Erickson said the city studied the parking situation in September, and the project area definitely qualifies.

To get the official process rolling, the city must receive petitions from five contiguous blocks in the area, with signatures from 60 percent of the residents. Anyone who lives there - homeowner, renter, condo owner, etc. - may sign the petition.

Once the petition is received, the neighbors must form a design committee, have at least one public meeting and provide a design of the proposed parking zone to the SDOT. If the committee is unable to design an area, then the city's transportation engineer may step in and design it.

What happens to adjoining residential areas when parking is restricted, asked a neighbor. Won't the parkers just move to the next block?

Yes, Erickson said. She said the zone process allows contiguous blocks to join the parking zone very easily by petition, and that is why once an RPZ is established, it grows much larger very quickly.

The Wallingford Community Council is not taking any active part in establishing RPZs. Councilmember Bob Quinn said the council only provided a forum for the discussion.

Interested parties should visit the RPZ webpage (www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking/parkingrpz) or e-mail Erickson, at julie.ericson@Seattle.gov.

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