Sunday, May 16, 2010

Madison Park merchants say “NO!” to LOLA

The plan to develop a park at the end of Madison Street has suddenly become controversial, with one part of the Madison Park Establishment squaring off against another. In one corner is the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC), which is busily promoting public involvement in support of its LOLA (Love our Lake Access) project; and in the other corner are the merchants of Madison Park—including those of the Madison Park Business Association (MPBA)—who are busily signing petitions and sending emails in opposition to the Council’s grand scheme. This division appears to be a rare fracture of the “powers that be” in Madison Park. As recently as last year, the two organizations (MPCC and the MPBA) found themselves so much in alignment that they agreed to merge their websites into one (http://madisonparkseattle.com/). Now their unanimity, assuming it was ever real, has been torn asunder over an unlikely issue: parking.

What supporters of LOLA describe as a potential community “jewel” and scenic focal point at the very heart of Madison Park, the merchants see as potential threat to their livelihood. For the fact is that the area at the end of Madison Street currently serves principally as a parking lot, and the creation of a park in that space will lower the amount of close-in business district parking.

Mark Long, owner of The Attic and a leading opponent of LOLA, estimates that 25 or more parking spaces will be lost at the road end if a park is constructed at that location. And it’s parking that will not—and really cannot—be replaced anywhere in proximity to the businesses along Madison Street. Eliminating the existing parking will force people to park further away from the businesses they patronize, he says, and will result in some people deciding to forgo making the trip to Madison Park.

“Everyone that lives in the Park enjoys the benefit of a varied retail area with wide sidewalks,” he says. “However, not all realize the costs and time needed to keep the doors open. Parking is a paramount problem.” This is a position that many other area merchants support. Stan Moshier, co-owner of Bing’s, summed up the concern this way in an email to other business owners: “Parking is most necessary to our existence as a viable business, proven by the countless times we have heard ‘it takes forever to find a place to park around here’ from our patrons, both young and old.”

A similar refrain comes from Madison Park Bakery owners Karen and Terry Hofman, who emailed “In our 17 years of operation, not a week has gone by without someone mentioning or complaining about parking difficulties. On occasion, [we’ve] had to telephone some elderly customers who pre-ordered baked goods but didn’t pick up their order. The response has too often been ‘Sorry, drove down but couldn’t find anywhere to park.’”

While Long is adamant that the whole LOLA idea be dropped, other business owners, including the Hofmans, are a bit more circumspect: “We only ask that the issue of parking be seriously addressed before rapidly proceeding only on the wishes of individuals representing LOLA.”

LOLA committee members say they are attempting to address the parking concerns of the merchants. “We can collaborate with the MPBA,” says LOLA’s Kathleen Stearns, “but we are not the decision makers. The Department of Parks and Recreation is.” She notes that the land belongs to the parks department and simply is not designated for use as a parking lot. “Madison Street ends at 43rd Avenue E.,” she notes, and the area beyond 43rd down to the pier is not controlled by the City’s transportation department. Effectively, vehicle drivers who park in the area are encroaching on City parkland, since it is technically not a city street.
.
Ownership of the property is shown on this graphic (click to enlarge):
.

For LOLA supporters, the issue therefore appears to be pretty straightforward. The land is park land and should be restored to park use. This is not to say, however, that LOLA is opposed to discussing the issue with concerned business owners or working with them to find creative solutions. Stearns notes that focus groups were held (including one where the parking issue was specifically on the agenda) and the business owners also were invited to meet with the MPCC by its president Ken Myrabo. But in spite of this outreach the business owners opposing the project did not come forward, she says; and as a result, some LOLA committee members sought out various Madison Park business owners to solicit their input.

Among the ideas being floated to improve parking in the business district are these, she says:

1) Encourage more employees of these businesses to use public transportation to get to work.
2) Ask employees (as well as business owners) to park further from their places of business.
3) Limit street parking to 2 hours (versus the 1, 2 and 4-hour designations that currently exist in different parts of the business district) and have it enforced to optimize usage.
4) Ask residents to volunteer spaces in their driveways or in front of their houses for the daytime use of employees (Kathleen Stearns reports she has agreed to do this on her property).
5) Make better use of existing alley parking spaces for employees and owners.

Stearns says she believes that collaboration will solve the parking problem, and she’s dismissive of the merchants who are not interested in working with LOLA on the issue. “Their vision is a parking lot. Our competing vision is for it to be restored to public use as a garden park. These are the competing interests for this public space.” To which she adds, “We are not opposed to bringing commerce to the Park.”

"Not impressed,” says Mark Long. “There are already three parks along 43rd. Parking is the Number One need here, not more parks. I know [the current situation] is not perfect and beautiful, but it’s functional. I think LOLA is a waste of time and effort just to get one to two percent more green space.” Among the other merchants supporting this anti-LOLA position, says Long, are the owners of McGilvra’s, Tina’s on Madison, Madison Park Jewelers, Cookin, and Martha Harris.

Cactus! owner Bret Chatalas, meanwhile, sent an email to City Council members and the parks department last month in which he expressed his support for parks but added that “I can’t imagine anyone, while thinking it through, would think that more parks in Madison Park is a better idea than providing parking for those already coming to the local three parks and beach, let alone the local businesses that rely on customers’ ability to easily access them. The ratio of parks to parking is way out of balance down here already, in my opinion.”

Unfortunately, there is no real room for compromise here. Succinctly, the question is this: park or parking lot? The area at the end of Madison Street can’t be both.

So which is it to be?

Given both the controversy and the uncertainty of funding, it's probably going to be quite awhile before we find out which faction of the Madison Park Establishment will ultimately have its way.
.
[Everyone, Madison Park business owners included, will get another opportunity to give their input when, on May 26, the final schematic design for LOLA will be presented at a community meeting to be held at Park Shore Retirement Community (1630 43rd Avenue E.) at 7:00 pm.]

6 comments:

  1. If you look at the three proposals for LOLA you see that they all eliminate ALL parking between 43rd Ave. E. and the pier. This removes not only business parking, but residential and beach parking too!

    As a life-long resident of Madison Park and one who lives two blocks away from Madison Park Beach I know what it's like to search for a parking spot near my own home on a busy day in the Park and at the Beach. However, I have lived with it and enjoy the added energy during the Summer months.

    But I don't agree with eliminating twenty-some parking places to add another park when we already have a great park. Let's not forget the aborted project proposed by the now defunct "Historic Madison Park" group that wanted to vacate 43rd Ave. E. from E. Blaine St. north to E. Howe St. thus connecting the children's park area and tennis courts with the beach. That plan would have eliminated thirty-some parking places and who knows what plans they had to re-route the buses?

    I "get" the idea of having a "hot" new space designed by an award winning landscape architect but how about holding off on eliminating the parking and do all the cool stuff at the north end of the beach area? That space has alway been neglected anyway with the blackberries on the beach side and the weird lay of the land with the steep hill and unkempt grass and unpruned trees. If you have to "jazz" up the street replace the concrete with some of those neat looking pavers and sell them to the locals so they can put their name on them for posterity.

    Yah I know I'm coming into this late but I guess I never believed that eliminating parking would really happen. Also I sympathize with business owners who are having their livelihood threatened by a project that has some positive issues but one big negative: REMOVAL OF PARKING!

    Remember this project is not just affecting the business, park and beach areas as the domino effect will cascade through the entire neighborhood negatively impacting us all.

    It doesn't make sense to make it tougher to find a parking spot in the Park than it already is!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Elinor KriegsmannMay 17, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    I also am a Madison Park resident and support the previous comment. A beautiful landscaped section of Madison Park has to be secondary to the current need for more parking. How about the "private" parking spaces on the north side of the street end? Aren't these cars parked on city owned property? All of these spaces should immediately be opened to public parking. Also at a meeting last year the developer promised the new apartment building will have underground parking which should aleviate some of the parking pressures.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an excellent blog and it will hopefully be read by people on both sides of the issue.

    The bottom lines is that the street end is owned by the Seattle Parks Departments and if the merchants in Madison Park want a parking lot, then they should purchase the land. The current use of Park property for cars would allows cars to be parked in the "new" Madison Park itself since there is a large grassy area that could hold at least two dozen cars.

    The merchants may win this round, but we really need to work together on this or all of us may be losers if the Parks Department sells the property as surplus or even install parking meters as a source of funds which they desperately need.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A potential solution to the parking issue raised by merchants would be to replace parallel parking with angle parking on 42nd Street between East Madison and East Blaine streets. There is a wide enough parking strip on the east side of 42nd street to do this. Some nice trees would have to be removed or moved but that should be a reasonable trade-off for a park on Park Department land at the end of Madison street.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am a longtime Madison Park resident and reading the comments of Mark Long make me less inclined to go to the Attic. Hey everybody, wake up, the future is not in more parking places, it is making Madison Park more inviting and accessible to outsiders. One thing I have seen over and over again while living in Madison Park for over 20 years is the unfriendly attitude toward change that could make the Park a friendlier more open place. The businesses blatantly against using public park land for public park use are shortsighted. The future is in biking, public transportation and greener approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You contradict yourself. "...the future is not in more parking places, it is making Madison Park more inviting and accessible to outsiders."

    Wouldn't providing more parking spaces make the area more accessible? If I have three small children in tow, coming from South Lake Union - are you suggesting that I take 3 buses to get to the park or have them all ride bicycles? I'm all for 'greener approaches', but let's be realistic here. There is a problem with parking in the business district. Taking away space is not the solution.

    I just don't feel the same can be said for a lack of green space...it is simply not a pressiant problem. And to not patronize businesses because of their opinions on this matter, while your choice, comes off as petty IMO.

    Great blog by the way, very well written...top notch stuff.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.