To encourage new businesses in midtown, the city enacted an “infill” zoning law. New development in midtown is tricky, because it’s an older part of the city, with established residential neighborhoods. A half block east of the businesses on Fourth Street it becomes single family residential.
So in the “infill” law (City Code 17.07.900 et seq.), the city said it would “encourage development while protecting the surrounding neighborhoods … [and] encourage a sensitive form of development.”
New businesses came — along with their customers and employees — into the midtown “core” — Fourth Street from Reid to Boise. But most of the buildings there, into which new businesses were shoehorned, are old — grandfathered under existing zoning, and so not required to provide off-street parking for those customers and employees.
The unfortunate result is that many choose to park on the nearby side streets — Montana, Reid, Roosevelt, and Fifth — instead of parking in the public lots on Third and Fourth. Many longtime residents are unable to park in front of their own house, and sometimes they can’t even get into their own driveway.
It’s become a huge problem, and as midtown continues to develop it will only get worse. So what can be done?
There’s a lot the city can do to make good on its promise to “protect the surrounding neighborhoods.” To its credit, the city has acknowledged its obligation and has started work on a midtown parking plan.
Good ideas from both the public and city staff were aired at a recent public meeting and presentation to the City Council. And the city said it would welcome more, so here are a couple.
Improvements to Third and Fourth Street parking lots and alley
The parking lots on Third and Fourth are the only public off-street parking in this entire area — from Foster to Harrison. The Third Street alley is the natural pedestrian access to them from Capone’s and other businesses.
But their paving is old and cracked, lighting is poor or nonexistent, and particularly at night people correctly see them as unsafe. And many people don’t even know the lots are open to the public and free.
The city acknowledges all this and is working on solutions — which is good. But it’s balking at the cost of repaving the lots and alley, citing other demands on the city budget.
That concern is misplaced. The parking lots are owned by the urban renewal agency, which is drowning in cash and is the obvious one to pay for all these improvements.
In the past few years, rising real estate prices have meant rising property taxes. The urban renewal agency skims off all property taxes above a 1997 base, so its revenue has soared. The cost of all these improvements is pocket change for the urban renewal agency.
The city is also considering expanding both lots. Again, the urban renewal agency is the obvious one to bear the cost. It can buy additional land on Third Street to expand that lot. And it can use some of its Fourth Street property to expand that lot, instead of selling all of it to a developer.
All agree that more and better public off-street parking is needed in the Reid-to-Boise core. The existing Third and Fourth Street lots — expanded and improved — appear to be the anchor of the city’s plan.
So do the work on those two lots and the alley right — not on the cheap. The urban renewal agency has plenty of money to pay for it — and this is exactly what that agency is supposed to do.
The city has the power under Chapter 10.22 of the City Code to establish restricted (residential permit required) parking in problem areas. The city has done that in the Fort Grounds, and it’s a natural for problem areas in midtown.
The city agrees, and has proposed “residential parking zones” for both sides of Montana and the south side of Reid, east of the alley. So far so good. But consider doing the same thing on Roosevelt west of the alley to Third (overflow from Capone’s) and on Fifth Street (overflow from Fourth).
The city is correct that there needs to be enforcement — otherwise the restriction is useless — and seems to plan to rely on neighbors calling in complaints to the police. If that works, fine — but too often in the past neighbors called in complaints, only to be told the police had higher priorities and nothing could be done.
If it takes hiring Diamond Parking to enforce the restriction, then the city should hire them and pay for it. It owes that to the neighborhood.
There’s plenty more that could be said, but space does not permit. The important thing is to provide ample opportunity for public input — and to take that input seriously.
David Lyons is a midtown Coeur d’Alene resident.