Parking concern at school

Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 7/17/18

A second request for variance from required on-site parking at the upcoming Salish Coast Elementary was met with objections from the school's neighbors July 13, as Hearing Examiner Emily Tyrell …

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Parking concern at school


A second request for variance from required on-site parking at the upcoming Salish Coast Elementary was met with objections from the school's neighbors July 13, as Hearing Examiner Emily Tyrell considered whether to approve the Port Townsend School District's application.

The district received a previous parking variance for Salish Coast Elementary, a 68,000-square-foot pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school, on the grounds that it formalize shared-use agreements for off-site parking with two nearby churches.

Because one of those two churches, San Juan Baptist Church, has since declined to share the 75 parking spaces they had previously agreed to make available to the school's parents and teachers, the district applied in April for further parking variance, although Tyrell felt the need to remind the school's neighbors that the site plan for the school has already been approved.

Those spaces are needed now because the city of Port Townsend had previously exempted the school district from the city code's requirement of 96 parking spaces for the school, which left it with no parking spaces for parents or teachers.

According to John McDonagh, senior planner for the city, without access to that church lot, the estimated shortfall in parking spaces for staff and parents is about 65.

McDonagh spoke on behalf of the city of Port Townsend, and recommended the hearing examiner grant the school district's requested variance from the city code, a position he'd previously detailed in his July 11 staff report.

McDonagh testified in favor of building curbside parking along 16th Street, between Sheridan and Grant streets, but he acknowledged it still needed to be determined whether that parking should be angled or parallel.

Tod McBryan spoke on behalf on the school district's consulting firm, Heffron Transportation of Seattle, likewise recommended building additional curbside parking on Grant Street, between 14th and 16th streets, instead of on school grounds. 

In both filings in April and testimony delivered July 13, Heffron Transportation and McBryan attested that the Port Townsend School District would encourage parents and teachers to use carpools or means other than cars to get to school.

However, the hearing examiner received more than 10 spoken and written comments from homeowners who are opposed to more school parking in their neighborhoods.

Grant Street resident Nancy Villagran testified that cars already routinely block her driveway and mailbox, and worried that school construction could reduce her road to one-lane traffic, making it less accessible to emergency vehicles and less safe overall.

“It's a lofty goal to reduce traffic, but I'm not sure reducing parking spaces is the way to do it, because people don't pay attention to that,” Villagran said. “They park where they want to park.”

Christie Apker has raised her children across the street from the elementary school, and she asserted that the combination of pick-up and drop-off traffic and parking at the intersection of 16th and Sheridan streets would lead to gridlock.

Like Villagran, Apker deemed the pedestrian-friendly design of the school “a great idea in theory,” but lambasted what she perceived to be the planners' naivete, comparing the hectic schedules of parents with those of the hearing's attendees, by asking how many of them drove to the hearing.

“Everybody, okay?” Apker said. “So you're asking people with young children (not) to drive their kids? It's not going to happen. They're going to park. They're not going to walk their kids.”

Apker considered this an especially unreasonable demand on families with either single parents or both parents working.

Dr. Heida Diefenderfer testified that she asked the Port Townsend Police Department to step up patrols, after seeing a pickup truck almost hit a young boy on a bike, who veered off the sidewalk into Sheridan Street.

With construction workers finishing the demolition of Grant Street Elementary buildings at the site the previous week, Diefenderfer noted the final stages of grounds work are about to begin, and called for a stop-work order on the construction.

“If they don't redesign the grounds to allow parking right now, it will be very expensive to change it later,” Diefenderfer said. “We really hope the school district will step up and do the right thing with the $40 million in bond money that property taxpayers approved. Either hire a professional mediator to talk with the church, buy additional property for a lot nearby, or build a lot on school grounds.”

Port Townsend School District Superintendent submitted a letter from Samantha Thomas, a walkability and healthy places consultant, describing how the maximization of on-street parking, coupled with the promotion of carpooling and alternatives to cars, was consistent with the city's goals of providing more land for housing, as well as reducing auto emissions for healthier residents and a healthier environment.

Diefenderfer countered by submitting a letter from former Grant Street Elementary Principal Lisa Condron, sent to the school's neighbors Sept. 10, 2017.

Diefenderfer pointed out that the school, through Condron, had already encouraged carpooling, bike-riding, walking, and using the school bus or transit for the 2017-18 school year, but to what she saw as no avail.  

In response to residents' complaints that traffic surrounding the new school had affected a far broader swath of streets than Heffron Transportation indicated they were monitoring, McBryan expressed enthusiasm for the idea of expanding the radium of their monitoring around the school.

Tyrell concluded the hearing by noting she had 10 business days from July 13 to make her decision.


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