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Originally published February 18, 2012 at 6:31 PM | Page modified February 18, 2012 at 9:20 PM

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Kirkland may charge for parking in two city-owned downtown lots

Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride supports a Parking Advisory Board proposal to charge $1 an hour to park in the day or evening in two crowded downtown parking lots.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Pay parking is a given in bustling, crowded downtown Seattle.

But Kirkland?

After dipping its toes in the world of pay parking the past few years, Kirkland is looking at imposing all-day parking fees at two centrally located city-owned lots 12 hours a day.

"It was a long journey to get me to this place," Mayor Joan McBride said of the Parking Advisory Board's recommendation, which she supports.

But she's swallowed hard and accepted the idea for a couple of reasons — neither of which is about making the city richer.

For one thing, McBride said she got tired of hearing complaints from residents and visitors who tried to park legally but got tickets because the current rules are confusing.

The other reason is that shoppers and diners often can't find parking spaces at city-owned lots at Marina Park and at Central Way and Lake Street.

"It's our intent to manage parking," McBride said. "It's not really just about raising money. It's actually about trying to manage this finite resource that we have and trying to make sure that as many people can get into downtown as possible."

The city's parking board has proposed charging $1 an hour for parking from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the two most popular lots and eliminating the three-hour limit there on daytime parking. Parking now is free before 5 p.m. and $1 an hour after 5.

Parking would remain free in the 339-stall garage beneath the Kirkland Library, and a city-operated lot on private land at Park Lane and Main Street would continue charging $1 an hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Downtown workers are eligible for all-day free-parking passes at the Library Garage, and others may park free for up to four hours.)

On-street parking also would remain free. The city manages 338 on-street spaces and 586 spaces in parking lots.

If the City Council approves the recommendations, Kirkland would have the most extensive municipal paid-parking network on the Eastside. In Bellevue and other neighboring cities, most parking lots are privately operated and free to retail customers.

The council is expected to formally consider the matter next month, and new fees could go into effect before summer.

Waterfront downtown

How did Kirkland get to this point?

For starters, there's no other downtown with a waterfront right on Lake Washington — drawing sun worshippers along with shoppers. And, because land has been mostly split into small parcels, unlike Bellevue's single-ownership "superblocks," it's difficult to develop private parking in Kirkland.

Some business people say Kirkland's low-rise zoning also has discouraged redevelopment, and thus more parking, even as restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries drew shoppers downtown.

"We have people who come in and can't find parking. They have to park in the middle of Park Lane to pick up something from us," said "A" Liengboonlertchai, owner of Simplicity Décor and chairman of the Parking Advisory Board.

Clients sometimes rush in to appointments with Hallmark Realty broker Jack Wherry, the parking board's vice chairman, telling him they're late because they couldn't find a parking space. The parking crunch hasn't ended even though newer venues in Bellevue are "cleaning our clock," Wherry said.

To keep downtown visitors from driving off in frustration, Kirkland a few years ago adopted a goal of keeping occupancy of parking stalls below 85 percent. Between November and January, occupancy was between 86 and 92 percent at the two most popular lots during the afternoon and, at night in the Lake and Central Lot, 99 percent.

Those numbers created a sense of urgency because they were collected during the off-season, when people weren't flocking to Kirkland's beaches and restaurants as they do on nice summer days.

Kirkland's parking regulations have confused many drivers and angered others. This past year, city budget cutbacks ended enforcement of the Park Smart program, which required downtown workers to park in the larger, more remote Library Garage.

That resulted in many workers parking in free, three-hour parking spaces near their businesses and moving the cars several times to avoid fines.

Kirkland Piercing and Tattoo Studio owner Susin Paur and tattoo artist Conor Moore park their cars in the Marina Park lot, and so does acupuncturist and massage therapist Sik Chi Stanley Chan when he's in too much of a hurry to walk from the Library Garage.

They're concerned about a lack of parking on busy days, but also worried that daytime fees might hurt business. Chan said he would think about reimbursing clients for the cost of parking, but that would become an unwelcome overhead cost.

If daytime parking fees are imposed, Paur said, she will park "up the hill" on streets where parking is unregulated.

City Councilmember Penny Sweet, who operates The Grape Choice near Marina Park, welcomes the parking board's proposed changes.

"Frankly, it's like a lot of other things," Sweet said of the parking crunch. "When it's bad it's very bad, and when it's not bad it's fine. But when it's bad there is no parking. On a sunny day in Kirkland you cannot park your car."

The parking board's answer is a "market-based" solution that lets drivers decide how much a convenient parking space is worth. "I didn't hear anybody say you should do more enforcement" of existing rules, transportation-engineering manager Dave Godfrey said.

The new parking fees are forecast to bring in at least $100,000 a year. Possible uses of the proceeds include maintenance of parking lots, rain shelters over pay stations, bright paint and security cameras at the Library Garage, and additional parking spaces in the future.

Wherry said he knows many people won't be happy about another cost imposed by government. But, he said, "The more we can use that money to create a positive experience, then people can see that the money they are spending on parking is coming back to them in a positive way and right away."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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