More parking at the Albert Haller Playfields and James Center for the Performing Arts may be a possibility after all.
City councilors agreed Aug. 24 to seek solutions to partner with Sequim Family Advocates and other stakeholders to find safer parking solutions at the playfields.
Their decision comes nearly two months after members of the City of Sequim Parks and Recreation Board denied a proposal in a special meeting to add 64 parking spots west and south of the bandshell.
The additional parking was part of Phase II of the Family Advocates’ playfield project from 2011.
The plans originally were approved by city councilors that year but it was later denied at the special meeting at Parks Manager Joe Irvin’s recommendation that gravel for the new parking doesn’t meet low impact development specifications.
He recommended grass paver bricks but Family Advocate leaders say the bricks cost three times more and were out of their budget, which comes from donations and grants.
After the parking was denied, Sequim Family Advocates returned $128,000 back to the Albert Haller Foundation which granted the funds after hearing of multiple safety concerns at the playfields.
Dave Shreffler, president of the Sequim Family Advocates, told city councilors on Monday that one solution is to perceive the parking spots as a phase project.
“Take what we leave as 80 percent,” he said. “The gravel parking lot we’d be building you would have to go under the grassy paver anyway.”
City Councilors seemed receptive to supporting the group in different capacities.
“We as a council, when SFA brought this to us, we supported it 100 percent,” Councilor Erik Erichsen said. “Let’s direct city staff to work through our codes or whatever we have to do to make this place work safely.”
Councilor Laura Dubois wanted to see how the city could help through its upcoming budget.
“SFA has given us an enormous gift with these playfields,” she said. “I think the city can come up with a little bit of money to help with parking.”
Councilor Ted Miller said he was concerned over potential costs to city residents.
“Remember, 80 percent of the people using this don’t live in the city and won’t be paying a dime for using it,” he said.
Miller said he was a fan of the Family Advocates paying for the project but he objects to most of the benefits going outside of the city. He said it would be an ideal project for a Metropolitan Park District.
Shreffler disagreed with Miller’s numbers and said the project is more immediate than anything a master plan can address in 5-10 years.
“We have a plan and basically the only reason it’s not going to fruition is because you feel you don’t feel you can raise enough money for it, so you’re trying to get the city to bail you out,” Miller said.
Erichsen said one of the benefits for the city is that the playfields draw in people.
“These people come and spend money in our restaurants, hotels/motels and in the shops downtown, etc., Walmart, Costco,” he said. “That brings in tax money to the city and tourist money to help us with our overall running of the city.”
Shreffler said the Family Advocates’ annual Dungeness Cup generates about $250,000-$350,000 in city revenues from 50-60 participating teams.
“It’s an economic engine,” he said.
Parking in Phase II was previously shelved due to the grassy pavers’ costs so city staff and leaders with the Family Advocates pursued an alternative — creating parking on Rhodefer Road along with installing an emergency turnaround and a bathroom/storage facility near the playfields.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the plans because it was identified in December 2014 as a jurisdictional wetland that can’t be paved over.
Craig Stevenson, vice president of the Family Advocates, told city councilors that his group agreed to “a false trade” by shelving the original 64 spots for the Rhodefer Road project and spent about $20,000 of donated funds in researching the project.
“Maybe it was unknowable but we took it on good faith,” he said.
Earlier this year, representatives with the Albert Haller Foundation said they received numerous complaints about safety at the playfields and they felt something needed to be done. This led leaders with the Family Advocates to reintroduce its original 64 parking spot project.
The ongoing discussion about parking at the playfields, led leaders with the Family Advocates and city council to meet with the City’s Parks and Recreation Board on Monday to detail possible safety solutions.
Councilors mulled parking alternatives around the Water Reuse Site and Carrie Blake Park such as at the horseshoe pits and along Blake Avenue. However, Shreffler and Stevenson said their group’s leaders have spent hundreds of hours over 1 ½ years discussing the options and found further restrictions.
“The proposal we came forward to you was jointly approved to put it in the spot that makes the most sense,” Shreffler said.
“We still haven’t received an answer why in 2011 gravel parking was OK. You allowed that to happen. Now in 2015 under the exact same code it isn’t OK. It doesn’t have to do with gravel. It’s the interpretation of the code by individuals who have changed between 2011 and 2015.”
Erichsen asked Irvin if any alternatives were recommended before denying the 64 spots and he said no.
Irvin said after reviewing city codes for a week he learned gravel wasn’t allowed and it led to a parking memorandum.
He made several recommendations on Monday to mitigate safety concerns such as — eliminating parking on Rhodefer Road, include the Family Advocates as stakeholders in the Parks Master Plan, pursue grants and encourage the Family Advocates to speak with users of the playfields to find short-term parking onsite that can accommodate drainage, i.e. park on the grass.
However, Stevenson said they don’t plan to speak with people about parking on the grass because “no one wants to take that liability” if someone gets hurt on it if muddy or wet.
Shreffler said parking on grass violates the city’s code and the parking memorandum states it must be cement or low impact development techniques.
“Anyone who has been out there on a Tuesday night for a performance at the James Center sees it’s completely unregulated,” he said.
“Not only is it not code compliant but there are also chemicals and gasoline and antifreeze directly going into the groundwater,” Shreffler said. “I’d like an explanation from DCD (Department of Community Development) or staff or council or anyone on how this gong show of parking mayhem is better than what we are proposing to build — an engineered parking lot with storm water treatment, rain gardens and LID approved techniques opposed to status quo parking on grass.”
New City Manager Charlie Bush said he’d return with a “menu” of options that may involve city funds, other options to be determined and possibly some code changes in regards to the parking.