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Planners present leaders a parking plan for a changing city

City Councilmembers Largo Wales and John Holman are big on the idea of a downtown parking guru, a parking czar, a clearing house for all things parking related.

Both are keen about updating assumptions underpinning parking plans and the plans themselves in light of a rapidly-changing, dynamic downtown on the cusp of major building projects.

They agree that property owners, business owners, customers, everybody affected by changes to parking should be notified of them ahead of time. Perhaps, they said, the City could set up a new section of the City's website (www.auburnwa.gov) to make that possible.

And they believe that the City should keep up the pressure on Sound Transit to build a second transit parking garage it promised the City in the 1990s.

All of those ideas are included in the draft of the new Comprehensive Downtown Parking Management Plan.

Members of the Municipal Services Committee, including freshman councilwoman Yolanda Trout, shared ideas Monday with City planners as they trotted out a draft of the plan for inspection.

Two years in the making, the wide-ranging plan is meant to address downtown parking needs in the short term, i.e., a year out, and in the long term, 6 to 10 years out, said Planning Manager Elizabeth Chamberlain.

And, Chamberlain stressed, this plan is not meant to be an academic exercise.

"We want a document that's used, not a study that ends up sitting on a shelf like past plans have ... something that we really use in the short and long term," said Chamberlain,

Chamberlain and planner Gary Yao began work in 2011, completing an on-street and off-street parking supply-and-demand analysis.

Next, they surveyed downtown property owners, business owners, residents, getting back 100 surveys.

And with each new development, the duo ran their work through the Planning and Community Development Committee.

Committee members on Monday read, listened, commented, and finally sent the plan on to the full City Council for a vote, along with a recommendation that that vote be yes.

First up, Chamberlain said, should the full council approve the plan, would be to start working on assigning , three-hour, on-street parking throughout the downtown, ensuring that parking is finally assigned consistently.

Three-hour parking, according to the survey, is what folks interviewed for the survey said they wanted, across the board.

Wales was quick to offer at least one reason why some businesses would welcome three-hour parking.

"Three hours is really important to the hairdressers in the area. ... for people who get permanents, it takes three hours," Wales said. "It's really hard for some of the seniors — because that's their day to get their hair done — to run out in rollers and find another spot when time is up."

Holman chimed in.

"I like the fact that (the plan) strikes a balance," said Holman. "It identifies that parking users are not just a person and their automobile. It's residents that live downtown, it's businesses that are downtown, it's visitors that are coming to shop downtown, and then commuters, and they all have separate stakes, and they use parking differently. And so ... we're not just trying to use one model for each type of parker.

Holman also stressed the importance of having a central parking person, which is one of the recommendations in the plan. That way the City could delegate responsibilities and tasks out to departments as needed via a single point of contact.

"And I like the fact that (the plan) crowns the customer, the person parking, as the best, highest priority need. Because that's the person that's coming in to spend money in our businesses," Holman said.

"I feel that because we have so much change ... in downtown Auburn, we need to revisit parking and revaluate it more often than every five years," said Laura Westergaard, director of the Auburn Downtown Association. "The question is how that will be done."

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