VANCOUVER – Free parking in Vancouver’s burgeoning Uptown Village area may soon be a thing of the past.
“We’ve had it made for a really long time,” says Juanita Aspaas, owner of the Old Glory Antique Mall.
Having owned a business in the heart of Uptown Village for 20 years, Aspaas says she knows a lot of business owners who take the street-side spots meant for customers, so she isn’t too bothered by the potential for metered parking outside her store. “I park two blocks away and walk to work. And two of my employees walk … so it wouldn’t affect us too much.”
Near the antique mall, at Wild Fern, a clothing shop in Uptown Village, employee Cianna Tormohlen says the shop has parking for the owner and employees in the back, so metered parking wouldn’t adversely affect them, either. The same is true at Moe’s barbershop down the street. Although, says Moe’s employee Jason Brown, with two spots and five employees, people already need to double-up and the employees often find strangers parked in their spaces behind the shop.
“But we’re going to need it soon,” Brown says of the plan to install parking meters throughout Uptown Village. “I live in the neighborhood and we have two big buildings going up, so they need to do something about parking.”
Plus, says Brown, the free, two-hour limit parking in front of the barbershop is rarely, if ever, enforced.
In fact, when city parking consultants surveyed Uptown Village this year, as part of the city’s update on the 2006 Uptown Village Parking Management Plan, they discovered that the average stay in Uptown Village’s main commercial zone – located just a few blocks from Vancouver’s downtown area on Main and Broadway streets, bordered by Fourth Plain Boulevard to the north and Mill Plain Boulevard to the south – was a little more than three hours.
“There are hotspots in areas of Uptown Village where employees or others are concentrating,” Mike Merrill, Vancouver’s parking services manager, told Vancouver City Councilors at their Nov. 21 council workshop.
Merrill showed the councilors key findings from a months-long study of the Uptown Village parking areas, including on-street parking in the commercial center and in seven, privately owned parking lots within the district.
What consultants found was that nearly half of the parking spots in Uptown Village are occupied during the peak hour, from noon to 1 p.m. and that the average stay is a little more than three hours. The city’s parking consultants counted cars parked on the street and in the private lots from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., on weekdays and found some areas – those closest to the heart of the Uptown Village shopping area on Main Street, were at 85 percent occupancy during the peak hour, while other regions were only half full.
“The ideal is between 70 percent and 84 percent,” Merrill said.
As the Uptown Village and Vancouver’s downtown continue to grow, the need for short-term and long-term parking solutions is becoming more apparent, added Vancouver city manager Eric Holmes.
“As we see additional growth and investment in downtown, with fewer vacant storefronts and a more vibrant environment, we’re also seeing a greater demand for parking throughout the downtown area,” Holmes told the council on Nov. 21.
Merrill said the city has been working with business leaders through the Uptown Village Association, as well as with residents in the Hough Neighborhood Association to come up with ideas for short-term and long-term parking solutions in that part of Vancouver.
The parking meter idea was one of the short-term solutions that the groups could agree on.
“In the end, the parking advisory committee recommended immediate and long-term strategies,” Merrill said.
The immediate strategies include: adopting the Uptown Village Management Plan update, installing parking meters and educating employees and business owners throughout the district about the new metered system.
“We had long discussions about parking meters. One of the items that the Uptown Village Association would like to have is regular, full-time parking enforcement,” Merrill said.
“It’s refreshing to know that we have people coming to us, wanting parking meter enforcement in the Uptown Village area,” responded Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.
Merrill said he would like the city to update the plan and to designate Uptown Village as its own unique parking meter zone, so the city can better manage the area and respond to its business and residential parking needs.
Giving the example of the city’s government district parking zone, located near the Clark County Courthouse in downtown Vancouver, Merrill said the city realized that the 30-minute and one-hour parking spots they had originally placed near the courthouse weren’t working for that part of town.
“You had people staying three to 10 hours or longer in that area, because the jail is there and the courthouse and Clark campus … it was, really, just parking tickets waiting to happen,” Merrill said. “We were able to say, ‘the people coming here need more time,’ and be responsive to people’s needs.”
The same situation could occur in Uptown Village, if the city finds that visitors to that part of town need more or less time parking than they do in, for example, downtown Vancouver.
Merrill added that, as the city converts more metered areas to digital parking meters, the old meters, which include a free 20-minute parking button in parts of downtown Vancouver, could be used in Uptown Village until the city can afford to replace them with newer, digitized machines.
That is something that a few business owners in Uptown Village wouldn’t mind seeing – especially if the meters came with the free 20-minute button.
Jeff Gumringer has owned the Harry’s Lawn and Power Equipment store in Uptown Village for the past four decades. He says he’s not thrilled by the idea of parking meters, because many of his customers are just popping in, picking up what they need and getting back into their cars.
“I think we need free parking,” Gumringer said. “I have people who come in just for a few minutes … and my employees need a place to park.”
Having the free 20-minute button on the meters would help, Gumringer said, but he still worries about his five employees, many of whom drive across town to come to work.
I’d say (the plan to put meters in Uptown Village) would affect us,” Gumringer said.
The city council is scheduled to discuss the issue in early December and still needs to have a first reading and public hearing on the updated Uptown Village Management Plan.