A group of Ballard residents is complaining that a new $1.5 million park along 14th Avenue Northwest will take away precious parking spaces.
A group of Ballard residents fighting for parking say they’d rather have 90 street spaces than a new, $1.5 million park.
The battle is a small part of the citywide controversy over how much parking is enough.
The City Council is considering a proposal to eliminate the requirement that developers provide parking in new apartments and condominiums within a quarter-mile of frequent transit. Parking could still be built, but developers wouldn’t have to provide it under the current ratio of one space for each unit.
Members of the East Ballard Community Association have been lobbying the city for almost a decade to bring a green space to 14th Avenue Northwest, a street that park officials say has more parking — along curbs and across a wide median — than almost any other residential street in the city.
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“This street might be unique in the city with the exception of some parts of Sodo,” said Patrick Donohue, senior projects coordinator for the Parks Department and the project manager for the 14th Avenue Northwest Park project.
“It’s parking, parking, parking.”
At two public meetings, about 100 people have turned out to help plan the new park. Fewer than 20 have complained to the city about the loss of parking, Donohue said.
But those who object say that rapid development in Ballard is filling up the street parking and that they don’t want to lose more.
Opponents point to two big apartment buildings being built within a few blocks of the park project — a 265-unit building at 14th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street and a 165-unit building on the opposite side of Market.
They say that if the new parking regulations were in place, their neighborhood would be overrun with other people’s cars.
“We’re not anti-park,” said Tom Ormbrek, a retired sheet-metal worker who has lived in Ballard for almost 60 years. “Everybody wants parks, but there is a war on vehicles in this city. Caregivers, grandparents, the elderly and handicapped — people who have legitimate reasons to use a motor vehicle — are facing continuing inconvenience.”
Donohue notes that the East Ballard neighborhood was identified as lacking green spaces.
He said that studies the Parks Department commissioned along 14th Avenue Northwest show there will still be ample street parking after the park is built — about 400 spaces in a four-block radius.
“While the magnitude of the parking loss appears significant, when put into context with existing occupancies, the loss can be readily absorbed on nearby streets,” concluded the January study by Seattle parking consultants Fehr & Peers.
But the growing scarcity of on-street parking is an issue the whole city is grappling with, Donohue said.
Because of opponents’ concerns, the department commissioned one more parking study — at 2 a.m. Sunday night — to address criticism that the previous studies didn’t count cars at the time of greatest presence — overnight.
But Donohue is sympathetic only to a point.
“The city is not obligated to provide a place to park in front of your house,” he said.
The Seattle Planning Commission has suggested that the city take a more incremental approach to the issue, eliminating the parking requirement only in areas with intersecting transit lines. In other areas, it suggested in a letter to the City Council, the requirement could be reduced by half.
The City Council will take up the parking issue again at 9:30 a.m. May 9 in the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee.
Peter Locke, an architect and resident of 14th Avenue Northwest, said he and other members of the East Ballard Community Association have been working for more than 10 years to bring a park to the street.
The grand vision, he said, is to convert the entire length of the former streetcar line, from Ballard High School at Northwest 65th Street, to the ship canal, into a greenway. The two-block park is the first step in that plan.
Funding for the park comes from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy that set aside money to acquire land in neighborhoods that lack open space. The park converts two full blocks, between Northwest 59th Street and Northwest 61st Street into a new park by moving the northbound lane of 14th Avenue to the west and converting the road and the gravel median into a green space.
Some parking also will be lost in the blocks north and south of the park where the roadway will separate again.
In other neighborhoods, similar medians have been planted with grass and trees. But Locke said neighbors didn’t want to have to cross a street to get to their park or to be surrounded by traffic once there.
Preserving more of the existing parking means building a smaller park, he said.
“We feel strongly that it’s important to maximize the green space,” Locke said.
Another park supporter, Shannon Dunn, said neighbors envision a pleasant, tranquil space.
“For me, it’s the smile mile. I see people walking and biking or sitting on a bench as they lug groceries home.”
At the last public meeting for the park in March, the people who wanted to talk about the loss of parking say they were “shut down” while representatives from an architectural firm hired to help with the park’s design explained potential features.
“A very earnest young woman talked about a five-sided bench where everyone could see each other and no one would have their back turned,” said Ann Brown, one of the residents concerned about parking. “It was like an episode of Portlandia,” she said, referring to the television show that gently mocks the political-correctness of the Pacific Northwest.
Brown worries about her safety at night if she has to park farther from her home.
“My house is 100 years old. I don’t have off-street parking. I’d be willing to have a smaller park if it preserved more of the parking,” she said.
The Parks Department says it will review the public comments, and the new parking study, before making a recommendation to the parks superintendent on the final design later this spring.
Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.