PORT ANGELES — A split City Council grappled Tuesday with a surprise proposal to eliminate minimum off-street parking requirements for homes and businesses in Port Angeles.
Council member Mike French added the proposal as a late item to council’s agenda, leading to a heated debate over council procedures for policy-making.
French sought a first reading on an ordinance that would completely repeal the off-street parking chapter (14.40) in municipal code and eliminate the off-street parking requirement for accessory residential units under code chapter 17.94.070.
Council action occurs after a second reading in a subsequent meeting.
A motion to add the proposal to the Sept. 3 council agenda for a first reading in a form approved by the city attorney failed by 3-3 vote.
“I guess this item is dead,” said Mayor Sissi Bruch, who voted yes with French and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin.
Council members Jim Moran, Cherie Kidd and Michael Merideth voted no, largely objecting to the process by which the item was introduced and the lack of input from the Planning Commission.
“I’m not against this,” Merideth told French.
“It’s just I disagree with the process in which it’s moving through.”
Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter was excused.
After the meeting, French defended his decision to add the proposal as a late item, saying it was more “collegial” to seek a consensus from his fellow council members to discuss the matter rather than to ask the mayor to place the item on an agenda behind closed doors.
French emailed the propsoal to his fellow council members Friday afternoon.
“I recognize that people are unfamiliar with the process and are confused by the process and want the process to be transparent, and I do, too,” French said.
“My next move is to ask the mayor to place it on an agenda where we can then have a discussion, ideally have time for the public to digest it and comment, and, ideally, with a public hearing.”
The council’s next meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 3.
“I still think it’s good policy and we should pass it,” French said in an interview.
The council held a lengthy work session on parking issues in April, including a discussion about eliminating minimum parking requirements to encourage walkable neighborhoods and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is not a new idea,” French said.
According to Port Angeles municipal code chapter 14.40, homes with two or more bedrooms must have two parking spaces.
Most parking requirements for businesses are based on the square-footage of the building and type of use.
Others are based on specific business activities. For example, theaters must have one parking space for every three seats and laundromats must have one parking space per washing machine.
“Private developments have a vested interest to provide appropriate parking for their development without the government telling them what they need to provide,” French said during the meeting.
“And, in many cases, what we tell them that they need to provide is far more than what they need to provide.”
French said the city has “bad code” that began in the 1960s when people had “bad ideas about how traffic worked.”
“It’s preventing small businesses from expanding and building and revitalizing our area,” French said.
“I’m part of the legislative branch of the government, and I feel the duty to do something about it.”
Later in the meeting, City Manager Nathan West defended the city’s efforts to help businesses overcome an “archaic” parking code.
“I want to share that we work very diligently to ensure that any business that has a parking issue, whether it’s for an opening or an expansion, that we work diligently with them to get any parking issue resolved,” West said.
“I personally am not aware of any business that has not been able to open or expand because of a parking issue. We’ve worked really hard to work within the confines of the existing code to make sure parking is not a game-stopper for a business.”
French questioned whether the city’s solutions to the parking requirements are associated with costs.
“Those solutions do oftentimes cost money,” West said.
“Any parking improvements do cost money when they’re required.”
Storm King Athletic Club owner Sean Johnson said parking had been a “big issue” for his crossfit business, which is moving into a building he purchased and renovated at 224 E. First St.
“We had to buy a vacant lot that no one wants to see developed into parking for our business,” Johnson said in a Wednesday email.
Moran said his objection to French’s proposal had “nothing to do with the verbiage in the ordinance.”
“It’s the way its being presented,” Moran said.
“I don’t understand the motivation of using the late addition for adding such an important measure to our agenda.
“In my opinion, I think the optics of doing it this way are terrible,” Moran added.
Moran made a motion to table the item and send the ordinance to the Planning Commission. The motion failed 3-3, with French, Schromen-Wawrin and Bruch voting no.
Schromen-Wawrin, who had been attending a Washington State Transit Association conference in Sea-Tac and participated in the meeting by speakerphone, said the city’s off-street parking requirements are “bad medicine.”
“We need to stop the minimum parking requirements,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“That doesn’t mean that people can’t build parking. It just means that we as a government are not requiring that.”
In addition to the business impacts, minimum parking requirements increase housing costs because impervious services trigger stormwater regulations, Schromen-Wawrin said.
“Let’s stop the medicine, move on with it and then if the Planning Commission, or if city staff, want to propose another kind of minimum parking requirement that might be more tailored between the all-or-nothing options that we have now, we can do that,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“But in the meantime, we need to stop this policy.”
Kidd held up the meeting agenda to protest what she described as a lack of transparency.
“This is what’s published,” Kidd said.
“This is what you see, and this is not what has been presented tonight.”
Kidd said the Open Public Meetings Act demands transparency and holds the council’s “feet to the fire.”
“Good government is a government that is transparent and has information available to the public of what we’re going to act on in our council meeting,” Kidd said.
“There is no public transparency here.
“I ran for the office of City Council because I wanted to see more transparency on the City Council,” Kidd added.
“We have improved, but this is a huge step backwards.”
French denied that his late agenda item violated any laws or rules of procedure, noting that every council agenda has a “late items” section.
“I don’t think that what I did was inappropriate,” French said.
“I think that I am acting because I want to make sure local businesses can get certificates of occupancy.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].