Residents fight parking-garage plan for Seattle zoo
Phinney Ridge residents are making a last-ditch effort to block construction of a parking garage at the Woodland Park Zoo, months after...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Phinney Ridge residents are making a last-ditch effort to block construction of a parking garage at the Woodland Park Zoo, months after the Seattle City Council voted to build the $16 million facility.
"This isn't about a garage, but about the soul of the zoo," said Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council, who opposes the garage. "The [City] Council needs to look at it, tease apart the numbers and see what they're buying. The sunset view from the north meadow will be hidden by a parking garage."
But neighborhood complaints about the four-story garage may be too late. The City Council last September approved construction of the garage and sent a letter to Wall last month, signed by every council member, that read: "The council discussed the plan extensively. We do not feel that there is pressing need to revisit these decisions."
Still pending, however, is a decision on whether the city should embark on a design/build strategy, where the city would hire one company to design the garage and build it. City officials say that would save money.
The city is holding a public hearing on the design/build proposal tonight at the zoo, and opponents are hoping to use it as a forum to assert the garage is not needed.
Originally, the city planned to build the garage, part of a 20-year plan for the zoo, largely underground at the south entrance of the zoo near North 50th Street and Fremont Avenue North. But studies showed that could double the price, and an above-ground garage at the site could kill the popular rose garden. So officials moved it to an above-ground garage on Phinney Avenue North adjacent to the zoo.
Deborah Jensen, president of the Woodland Park Zoological Society, said in a letter that parking at the zoo is "woefully inadequate," and the zoo has less than half the available parking of comparable zoos. The garage is necessary, she said, to avoid spillover onto residential streets.
The city Parks Department and the Woodland Park Zoo are holding a hearing on the design/build proposal for the Woodland Park Zoo parking garage, and an open house about the proposed residential parking zone and the zoo's long-range development plan. The event will take place at 5:30 tonight at the Zoo Education Center, between the zoo entrance and the Rose Garden, at North 50th Street and Fremont Avenue North.
Ken Bounds, director of the city's Parks Department, said the issues raised by the neighbors have already been dealt with. "It's a done deal and we're moving forward," Bounds said, adding that the city hopes to have the garage open in 2008.
The plan calls for the city to pay 75 percent of the garage cost and the Woodland Park Zoological Society, which operates the zoo, the other 25 percent. In December 2001, the council handed over management of the zoo to the private, nonprofit organization. But the city continues to contribute about $5million a year to the zoo, retains ownership of the zoo property, and has the authority to review and modify the zoo's 20-year plan.
Bounds said tonight's meeting is not to weigh the merits of the garage, but whether the city should hire a joint designer-builder.
"The issue is about the methodology of construction," he said. "We're not reconsidering the decision. If they're organizing people to come out and fight the garage at [tonight's] hearing, it's the wrong forum and too late."
Bounds estimated that the 700-stall garage will generate $1.4 million in parking revenue in 2008.
But Wall said the decision shouldn't be final because other questions remain about the garage. Even though the council has approved the garage, she pointed out that there is a precedent for reviewing decisions it already made: It reversed itself on the lighting of fields at Magnuson Park, lighting only four fields instead of the seven the council originally had approved.
"The garage needs to be underground," she said. "I don't think a design/build is a good way to do this. Design/build is all about build, and design is subjugated to meet a budget. We want to make sure the garage is not a blight on the zoo's landscape."
Wall said the garage could still be built in a different location and put underground. She argued that before the city embarks on a garage it should consider other parking remedies, such as reducing on-site staff parking during the peak season.
Neighbors also are upset by a proposal to create a residential-parking zone around the zoo, where residents would have to pay $35 a year for each car to get a parking permit.
That, however, would require a petition from the neighborhood signed by 60 percent of residents in the proposed parking area. Under an agreement with the city, the zoo society has offered to pay parking costs for the first two years if the zone is implemented.
Five years ago neighbors on the southern border of the zoo turned in the required number of signatures for a residential parking zone, but the zoo asked them to delay the zone until a parking plan was developed. That petition would have to be resubmitted.
Wall said the neighborhood feels the pinch of parking on only a few days of the year.
She also said it was ironic that the city is balking at paying an extra $16 million to bury the garage, when it wants to spend $2 billion to bury the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054
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