Center for Urban Waters parking lot proposal spurs more discussion

Tacoma City Council’s Environment and Public Works committee had more questions than answers Wednesday surrounding an issue related to additional parking near the Center for Urban Waters.

City staff was hoping the committee would make a do-pass recommendation on a purchase resolution that would turn a vacant, city-owned piece of land on the east side of Thea Foss Waterway into a 50-stall paid parking lot to serve visitors to the Center for Urban Waters. The three-story, 51,000-square-foot, $22 million eco-friendly building is located at 326 East D Street and currently serves the city’s environmental services department, University of Washington Tacoma researchers, and the Puget Sound Partnership, according to the city’s Web site. The vacant land proposed for use as a parking lot is located across the street at 303 East D Street.

According to Tacoma Public Works Director Richard E. McKinley, 32 parking stalls are available at the Center for Urban Waters: five stalls serve tenants; five stalls serve van pools; three stalls serve drivers with ADA needs; and 19 stalls serve fleet vehicles and visitors. Twenty on-street, first-come-first-served, two-hour parking stalls also serve visitors. “Since the facility opened in April 2010, there have been over 90 meetings with 25 or more people in attendance,” wrote McKinley in a Aug. 11 memo to interim City Manager Rey Arellano. “These meeting attendees are often unable to find nearby parking on a temporary basis.

“Over the last year or so of occupancy, we have encouraged both employees and building visitors to carpool and use alternative transportation as much as possible,” McKinley added. “Due to the location of the building, alternative transportation is very challenging due to the Murray Morgan Bridge construction.”

The Murray Morgan Bridge is closed to vehicles and pedestrians until December 2012 while it undergoes a $57 million rehabilitation.

PARKING, CENTER FOR URBAN WATERS, AND LEED PLATINUM CERTIFICATION

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilmember Jake Fey, who also chairs the committee, recalled how reducing the number of parking stalls on the Center of Urban Waters site and encouraging employees and visitors to use alternative forms of transportation was encouraged in order to achieve the goal of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification for the building.”The staff sold hard the limitations on parking,” said Councilmember Fey. “It was sold to us that this was essential and [more parking] was not needed. And we talked about busing people in from the Tacoma Dome parking lot [and] having a shuttle.”

Councilmember Fey recalled how a former councilmember questioned why more parking wasn’t being considered during the facility’s planning and design. “Former Councilmember [Mike] Lonergan went to great lengths on this issue of why in the heck weren’t we providing parking there,” said Councilmember Fey. “And the answer at the time hinged on that it was important for the LEED rating. That’s why it’s coming up. It wasn’t just a passing question by a councilmember, it was repeated questions by a councilmember.”

Councilmember David Boe said that additional parking to serve the Center for Urban Waters “affects how you view Urban Waters and its proclamation of being a [super green building]. Yet, it’s not doing that necessarily as far as parking.”

The proposal was originally included as part of a purchase resolution slated to appear before Tacoma City Council on July 26. It was moved tentatively to the Aug. 2 meeting, and then to the Aug. 9 meeting, before it was postponed for a later date after some councilmembers raised questions over whether or not additional parking would conflict with the city’s goal of achieving LEED Platinum status for the building, as well as long-term economic development plans for the east side of Thea Foss Waterway, including a so-called Innovation Partnership Zone that would create the second phase of the Center for Urban Waters on the site of the proposed parking lot.

During city council’s study session on Aug. 9, Councilmember Jake Fey observed that the parking lot was only a short-term solution to the larger problem related to parking at the Center for Urban Waters. “This particular action just simply takes advantage of the fact that we happen to own some vacant property across the street and we might as well get parking revenue from it while we have it,” said Councilmember Fey. “This property is one of the prime locations for future economic development activity. We know at a staff level that if someone comes in tomorrow with a great proposal to go on that property, that’s where we would go, and the parking issue for that property would have to be resolved. We are more or less taking advantage of the situation that we have now.”

In his Aug. 11 memo, McKinley argued the new parking lot would not affect the city’s ability to achieve LEED Platinum certification for the Center for Urban Waters. “Under LEED for New Construction, the project team must define a site boundary to be used consistently for all LEED calculations,” McKinley wrote. “The 303 East D Street lot was not included in the site boundary for the project because it was not being developed (nor was it contemplated to be developed) during construction of the building. LEED Existing Building Operation and Maintenance (EBOM) does not have any requirements or points associated with the number of parking stalls. EBOM does have points associated with the number of building occupants that use alternative transportation. Environmental Services is exploring ways to operate the lot to further encourage alternative transportation by our employees. Options include providing discounted parking for carpools and for hybrid/electric vehicles.”

On Wednesday, McKinley re-iterated his message. “‘Does that parking lot affect our LEED status on the Urban Waters building?’ We’ve answered that clearly that it does not,” said McKinley. “We’ve gone through that in great detail to make sure that absolutely, certainly it does not. And as we discussed last week, as for the future uses of that property, it’s not expected that this lot will be a lot forever, and that we simply want to put it to productive use until such time as it can be developed into a higher and better and denser use.”But Councilmember Boe felt that additional parking — even if it’s off-site — created an awkward situation. “I think it’s the spirit of the situation, not the actual, ‘See! See! It’s across the street. It’s not on our property.’”

Several council committee members wanted staff to research one question in particular before it could make a recommendation on the resolution to the full city council: If the city had originally designed the Center for Urban Waters and included a surface lot on-site, would it have lost LEED points or affected the LEED rating?

ONE PURCHASE RESOLUTION, TWO PARKING LOTS

The original purchase resolution would have authorized Republic Parking to operate and maintain the parking lot, which is owned by the City’s Environmental Services Department. Drivers would pay $50 for a monthly parking permit, or four dollars per day and/or 75 cents per hour to park on a short-term basis. It has since been revised — drivers would pay $40 for a monthly parking permit, or four dollars per day and/or one dollar per hour to park on a short-term basis.

Similarly, the same purchase resolution would have also authorized Republic Parking Northwest to manage the city-owned, 35-stall parking lot located near South 14th Street and Pacific Avenue downtown. If approved, drivers would pay an initial rate of $2.50 per hour (two-hour minimum), and a rate of $125 (plus tax) to park there monthly. During weekday business hours, DaVita, whose downtown headquarters are adjacent to the parking lot, would lease all the parking spaces during weekday business hours. After hours, all the spaces (except for three until 8 p.m.) would be turned into paid parking for the general public.

Councilmember Boe asked why the city expected to earn revenue from the lot after 6 p.m. “There’s revenue that’s being projected for the evenings,” said Councilmember Boe. “Who’s going to pay that? I’m just wondering where is the basis to say anyone is going to park there after hours since you can park on the street for free?”

“It’s a legitimate question,” said McKinley. “Why would you pay to park when you can park on the street for free? But not everyone is willing, in a town where it rains and things like that, to walk three more blocks in order to park on the street for free when they are out on a date and they are trying to have a good time and trying to get somewhere and they don’t care about five dollars.”

“A five-dollar lot like that — that’s a night-time business killer,” said Councilmember Marty Campbell, who once owned a record store near the University of Washington Tacoma campus downtown. “I know for me, having had a retail business downtown selling five-dollar CDs, if someone wanted to come to my business and park in the parking lot across the street, they had to pay seven dollars to park and come in to buy a five-dollar CD.

“What I’m saying is we need to have a bigger, longer strategy about on-street and off-street [parking],” he added. “If we’re going to free at night, on one hand we’re told, ‘Oh, we can’t turn the meters on at night because no one will use them, but they’ll pay five dollars to park in a lot.’ There’s a big disconnect in there.”

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Tacoma City Council’s Environment and Public Works Committee discussed the issue at length during its meeting on Aug. 24. Here are some highlights of that discussion.

Richard E. McKinley, Director of Public Works

We came to you at council a couple weeks ago with an amendment to our agreement with Republic [Parking] — as you recall, Republic [Parking] manages our off-street parking lots and structures — to add two lots to the one at [South] 14th [Street]and Pacific [Avenue], which is primarily a DaVita lease spot, and to add the lot at 303 East D Street, which is across from the Center for Urban Waters facility. At that time, Councilmember [Marty] Campbell pointed out that in our supporting documentation it listed our standard, full, hourly rate schedule when in fact on this particular lot, because it’s a lease agreement with DaVita, the lot is really only available to the general public after six [p.m.]. So we’ve corrected that document so that it says that. The resolution itself lists the base hourly rate for that lot as $2.50, which is an accurate number. That is correct. The five o’clock after-hours rate is correct. But the $2.50 hourly rate that would be applicable for the lot is in fact the correct hourly rate for the lot, albeit it doesn’t really apply the way the lot works because it’s only available in the evening. But nonetheless, in the scheme of rates — Is this a $4 an hour lot? Is it a $2 and hour lot? is it a $1 an hour lot? — that is in fact the correct rate for that lot. So the resolution is correct in that sense, but the supporting document at that time wasn’t. So we have corrected that There are 35 spaces there. There’s some ADA spaces and some medical spaces. DaVita pays for all of the spaces. We’re not dealing with their individual employees or their individual customers. They pay for it all. So we have one customer that we deal with. They lease the whole lot through six [p.m.]. There are about three employees who, during the week, work until about eight [p.m.] because they have facilities across the nation, and that includes three time zones to the west of here. And so in order for them to be there until those businesses close at five, they’ve got about two or three employees on any given day who hold over, and we accounted for that in our lease agreement with them, that those people could keep their permit sticker and we would honor that until about eight [p.m.]. So that’s the [South] 14th [Street] and Pacific [Avenue] lot.

The other lot across from Urban Waters, as we talked to you about a week ago at study session, that was a property that was purchased at the time that Urban Waters was purchased. We bought the bigger piece of land. There was a business on that [property] that was a tenant of the city’s. That business has since gone away. The building that was there that had asbestos and other issues has since been removed. Right now it is a fully paved piece of ground. And so we are requesting that be operated as a city-paid parking lot, not free employee parking, but a full, public, city-paid parking lot at a rate that is commensurate with its location, that it’s not right downtown, so it is a lower rate than the [South] 14th [Street] and Pacific [Avenue] lot, as it should be. We’re a market-based parking system and so we’ve provided, we think, the answer to that.

One of the questions at that time was, ‘Does that parking lot affect our LEED status on the Urban Waters building?’ We’ve answered that clearly that it does not. We’ve gone through that in great detail to make sure that absolutely, certainly it does not. And as we discussed last week, as for the future uses of that property, it’s not expected that this lot will be a lot forever, and that we simply want to put it to productive use until such time as it can be developed into a higher and better and denser use.

Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe

I appreciate the follow-up on the LEED. I would be interested to see how many points we got on our LEED for the Urban Waters site for reducing the amount of parking, and if we did not get those points, if that would have caused us not to achieve the rating we got. Does that make sense?

Richard E. McKinley, Director of Public Works

If I might, that was one of the specific questions that I asked them. The answer I got back was that the LEED rating was specifically on the parcel upon that we were developing and so because this was across the street, it doesn’t count.

Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe

I get that. I think it’s the spirit of the situation, not the actual, ‘See! See! It’s across the street. It’s not on our property.’”

Tacoma City Councilmember Jake Fey

Did we get points for not having the normal amount of parking?

Jim Parvey, Public Works Department

We did not get points for mass transit because there’s no — We received points for — We did receive site points for the project. We did not lose points for adding a surface parking lot to it. Part of that though is that this was an existing impervious area. We’re not creating an additional impervious area. So I’m not sure. I would have to go back and do a little more research. So if I can repeat the question to make sure I have it. It’s a hypothetical question. If we had designed and proposed a project that included a surface lot, would we have lost points and how would that affect the LEED rating? Is that the question? We did have excess points on the project. We’d have to go back and re-score it.

Tacoma City Councilmember Jake Fey

I think we’re going to need to know what the score was and what the basis of the score was. The reason — and Mr. McKinley, you weren’t here at the time — but former Councilmember [Mike] Lonergan went to great lengths on this issue of why in the heck weren’t we providing parking there. And the answer at the time — circumstances could have changed in terms of actual construction design — the answer at the time hinged on that it was important for the LEED rating. So since I was here — I think I am the only one here other than Councilmember Manthou when that happened — that’s why it’s coming up. It wasn’t just a passing question by a councilmember, it was repeated questions by a councilmember.

Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe

I was just curious myself [about the South 14th Street and Pacific Avenue parking lot]. There’s revenue that’s being projected for the evenings: five dollars for all evening. Who’s going to pay that? I’m just wondering where is the basis to say anyone is going to park there after hours since you can park on the street for free?

Richard E. McKinley, Director of Public Works

We have that all over town. And we have people who park in those lots who choose for whatever reasons they have — either because there aren’t any spaces on the street that are available at that time and they don’t want to keep driving around looking, they just want to park and go to wherever they want to go. But most all of our facilities operate this way and they get some evening business. They’re not packed all night, but they get some evening business. It’s a legitimate question. Why would you pay to park when you can park on the street for free? But not everyone is willing, in a town where it rains and things like that, to walk three more blocks in order to park on the street for free when they are out on a date and they are trying to have a good time and trying to get somewhere and they don’t care about five dollars.

Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe

But the reality is that the access to that parking lot is off Court A. So anyone who is going to park there is going to have to really know how to get there. So it’s great for the people in the day time because they work there. They know Court A. They know, because it’s a one-way, how to get out of there. Someone who has never been to Tacoma before is going to see the parking lot and never figure out how in the hell to get there. So I’m looking at it and saying that is a lot that’s fine, but to me, I don’t know how you can plan on anything even remotely close to the numbers being shown for evening and weekend numbers. Because the only people who are going to park there are the people who work there because it’s just impossible to understand how to get there. For those who know, it’s slick.

Richard E. McKinley, Director of Public Works

So for lots of folks — and, again, I don’t want to carry it out too much — but for lots of folks in their private social life they have routine habits. They go to the same kinds of restaurants all the time. They know how to get there. They know where to go. They know their favorite place to park. We know that we have people who park there. We have 35 spaces. We have them all day leased for those spaces and we’re going to get as much revenue as we can for whoever chooses to park there. Maybe it’s a lot of people. Maybe it’s not many people. But the evening just gives us some additional revenue beyond the base lease, which is why we built the lot in the first place, for that everyday, 35 spaces to DaVita. Any additional revenue that comes in the evening for us is just all the better. But the property was built for those 35 spaces to be leased to DaVita every day and that’s what we do.

Tacoma City Councilmember Marty Campbell

A five-dollar lot like that — that’s a night-time business killer. I think we need to really look at our night-time pricing off-street lots because a lot of that strategy was put in place probably when meters came out in the 1970s. I know, for me, having had a retail business downtown selling five-dollar CDs, if someone wanted to come to my business and park in the parking lot across the street, they had to pay seven dollars to park and come in to buy a five-dollar CD. They parked in the red zones. They parked illegally. That strategy was not supporting the night-time businesses. So this may be the right thing to get this under way, but what I’m saying is we need to have a bigger, longer strategy about on-street and off-street [parking]. If we’re going to be free at night, on one hand we’re told, ‘Oh, we can’t turn the meters on at night because no one will use them, but they’ll pay five dollars to park in a lot.’ There’s a big disconnect in there.

Richard E. McKinley, Director of Public Works

I couldn’t agree with you more. I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is a disconnect to have free [parking] on the street but not in there. But it is the system that we have today. I agree that we need to take a look at that on the global picture.

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Tacoma considers additional parking for eco-friendly Center for Urban Waters (08/24/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2026434&more=0

New Web site for Center for Urban Waters (08/23/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2025868&more=0

Center for Urban Waters, Innovation Partnership Zone top Tacoma City Council study session agenda (08/15/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2021744&more=0

Sauro’s parking lot contract tentatively headed to Tacoma City Council (08/03/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2016405&more=0

Tacoma City Council to vote on parking contracts (07/19/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2009355&more=0

A garden grows atop Center for Urban Waters (07/09/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1802909&more=0

Move-in begins at $22M Center for Urban Waters (03/29/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1741767&more=0