City council approves disabled parking limits downtown

Compromises with local senior citizens will be explored

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Disabled drivers will no longer have free unlimited parking in downtown Vancouver under a new ordinance approved by the city council Monday night.

Citing a need to increase turnover and availability of parking in the city’s center, the council approved a new four-hour time limit for those with disabled placards, but left just what may happen to disabled drivers who live downtown uncertain.

The debate pitted business owners and downtown advocates against residents of an affordable housing complex for seniors.

The ordinance was brought forward by the city’s Parking Advisory Committee following complaints from businesses that people were parking indefinitely in front of their shops.

However, residents of Lewis and Clark Plaza — a 46-unit housing project for low-income seniors at 621 Broadway — protested the move, saying they need to park their cars on the street by the front doors. The building has no parking; residents can pay $75 per month to park across the street in the garage that also serves the Regal Cinemas on C Street. But residents said that the garage is too expensive, too far and too dangerous.

“There’s reasons that we need our parking. We need to be safe and secure,” resident Sandy Jones said. “Out of 60 tenants, only eight of us drive. I don’t even know what (businesses) have to complain about.”

Another woman said she sees vomit, urinating, camping, fights and other unsavory activity in the garage that make it a bad option.

What’s best for all

But Vancouver's Downtown Association Executive Director Lee Rafferty said she has to consider what’s best for all of downtown, not just at Lewis and Clark Plaza.

She did say, however, that Lewis and Clark Plaza developer Elie Kassab and the city “dropped the ball” when they failed to provide a better parking situation there.

“This conversation, as painful as it is … looking at it citywide, I believe it is the appropriate thing to do,” Rafferty said. “It puts a hardship on these people, and that does pain me. But still, we urge you to go ahead with the staff’s recommendation. Sadly.”

A one-day city survey in 2010 showed that 15 vehicles were parked for more than six hours in spots across town. At 8 a.m., 3 percent of metered spots were occupied by disabled drivers.

Councilor Bart Hansen suggested either grandfathering in some residents or creating monthly parking permit spots.

“I still do support it,” he said. “What I would like to see are some caveats going in.”

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days, but the council asked staff to roll it out slowly and work with Lewis and Clark Plaza residents to find a solution. City Manager Eric Holmes said that possible compromises for the Lewis and Clark Plaza residents will be included in a city council workshop on Aug. 1.

State law requires that meters that have a time limit be signed clearly to show the time limit for disabled parkers; the Parking Advisory Committee will discuss where and how to put up signs.

Those at a spot longer than four hours without paying would be fined $15 for an expired meter, or possibly $18 for overtime parking, with those fees doubling after 30 days.

The boundary of the new four-hour time limit zone will be from Fourth Plain Boulevard on the north to the Columbia River on the south, and from Lincoln Avenue on the west to Interstate 5 on the east.