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Old Bellevue merchants ask city to fix parking problem
With several new mixed-use developments going up, Old Bellevue is changing. But local business owners say the parking problem remains constant.
"The main thing that always gets people in an uproar is the parking," said Kristina Wisth about Old Bellevue Merchants Association meetings. She has been tasked with advocating for the OBMA to get the city to include more parking there. "… There really hasn't been a squeaky wheel in their face for forever."
The OBMA ramped up its campaign for more Old Bellevue parking in February, with Wisth addressing the problem with the Downtown Livability Initiative Citizens Advisory Committee and City Council.
Wisth represented the OBMA at the City Council's July 21 meeting, where she made the association's appeal for a city parking garage on the southeast corner of Bellevue Downtown Park that could accommodate 500-plus vehicles. The merchants association argues such a facility would unify the park and Old Bellevue.
City officials, who declined to let the Reporter speak with Bellevue Planning and Community Development Director Chris Salomone, responded in an email that completing the circular water feature at Downtown Park is already planned for that corner of the property. Construction is slated to start mid-2015. The west parking lot will be expanded as a result of lost spaces at the park's east lot, resulting in no net gains.
"Parking continues to be an ongoing issue in Old Bellevue, and throughout downtown Bellevue," the email states. "Striking the right balance of adequate parking and efficient traffic flow is challenging, and in recent months has been a greater challenge given the amount of development activity in this area."
Mixed-use developments The Gateway and Bellevue at Main will be built across from each other and include underground parking, but Wisth said those are amenities for future tenants and those willing to pay fees to park. The OBMA doesn't believe that will alleviate parking concerns.
The city does plan to add 29 day-time, on-street parking spaces in and around Old Bellevue by the end of October, having added five of those spaces on Main Street in June. Regulations at Downtown Park were also recently changed to allow parking after 6 p.m., at the OBMA's request.
No recommendations for curbing the parking problem were provided by the Downtown Livability Initiative CAC, which is deferring the issue until a parking study is completed. The council will hear a presentation about the livability initiative in October.
Wisth, who is general manager for Gilbert's on Main, said Old Bellevue should be looked at separate from downtown because its needs are different.
"The issue is this is still a suburb," she said. "They're hoping this is a walking community, which it is, and we hope it stays that way."
Walkability aside, Wisth said many people driving to Old Bellevue are attracted there from outside the area, and get discouraged when it comes time to park.
"They finally make it here because they want to be here," she said. "We even pay (parking) tickets here sometimes because we want people to come."
The city, in its email statement, adds that Phase 1 of the Meydenbauer Bay Park project will provide 25 new parking spaces, though construction won't start until next year.
"Although the new parking spaces are intended to accommodate park users, they are close to Old Bellevue," the email states. "The master plan for Meydenbauer Bay Park envisions two underground parking lots, primarily to serve park use, but funding currently is not available to proceed with the phases of the park that would include them."