Camas grapples with downtown parking issues

Ordinance will be crafted with proposed changes

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Parking in downtown Camas. It’s a complicated issue that can draw emotions including frustration, anger and exasperation.

While a handful of businesses are lucky enough to have their own parking lots, the majority of merchants in the downtown core share customer on-street parking limited to two hours, with some areas of 10-minute and 6-hour parking spots as well.

It’s an issue that over the years has come up time and time again. A city-sponsored committee attempted to tackle some of the problems in 2009.

“This animal has been one we have grappled with,” said Councilman Steve Hogan. “It’s kind of like dancing with a bear. Once you start dancing, you don’t get to determine when to stop. It seems the bear does.”

Mayor Scott Higgins said the downtown core has changed in the past four years. It’s not unrealistic to think that some updates to parking could be in order.

“One of the issues we have is a dynamic, growing and changing core,” he said. “Many of the businesses that were in place in 2009 are not the same businesses that are there now. Therefore, some of them have different needs.”

As part of its annual review of parking issues and requests, the City Council recently voiced support for some changes. More may be on the way.

This time around, City Council gave the OK to add a C-Tran pick-up spot in front of the apartments at 615 N.E. Sixth Ave., and two 10-minute spots — one in front of Caffe Piccolo at 309 N.E. Birch St. and one in front of Happy Island restaurant at 419 N.E. Cedar St. In addition, 35 spots on Cedar and Birch streets, between Northeast Fifth and Sixth avenues, have been slated to shift from a six-hour to 72-hour parking time limit.

Caffe Piccolo owner Jodi Vaughan said due to the nature of her coffee shop business, a nearby 10-minute parking spot would be a big help.

“Seventy-five percent of people just come in and leave, they don’t stay,” she said. “If they drive by and there is no parking, they keep driving.”

Councilman Don Chaney wondered how enforceable some of the proposed changes would be.

“I get concerned about expectations we build,” he said. “That’s a challenge for our staff — to assure people that ask for these things that it is going to serve the purpose it was designed for.”

Police Chief Mitch Lackey said Code Enforcement Officer Tami Strunk splits her time between code enforcement and parking enforcement, which is considered “random.”

“It’s kind of a 50-50 deal on a hit-and-miss basis,” he said. “They don’t get checked all of the time.”

Lackey said five to 10, $15 parking tickets are issued daily in Camas. If notices are not paid or postmarked within 15 days, they are subject to a $25 penalty.

Chaney said some employees of downtown businesses contribute to the lack of parking issues.

“One of the problems that drives this is the employees that park in the core area and move their cars [every two hours to avoid a ticket],” he said, adding that a potential solution could be implementing an ordinance that prohibits moving a vehicle to evade a ticket.

Lackey said moving to evade laws are not uncommon and enforcement involves using cameras equipped with GPS systems to monitor core zones.

“It’s not a complicated program to enforce,” he said.

In an effort to address the employee parking issue, the City Council voiced its support for adding the long-term parking to Cedar and Birch streets. Eight spots on Cedar Street and 27 spots on Birch Street now zoned for 6-hour parking would become 72-hour time limit parking spots.

“The thought was that would allow employees to park in those spaces and not have to do the whole shell game and move around,” said Jim Carothers, city engineering manager.

Ed Fischer, who owns Camas Bike and Sport at Third Avenue and Birch Street, called removing the 6-hour limit a “no-brainer.”

“Just lift it and call it a goodwill gesture,” he said. “To the merchants and employees of this town, say ‘here is your parking, you can have it. Stop parking in front of the storefronts.’”

Not all of the parking change requests were met with immediate support.

The City Council requested feedback from business owners on a change requested by the Downtown Camas Association to give nearly all on-street parking on Northeast Fifth Avenue a three-hour time limit, instead of the current two-hour maximum. The 10-minute spots in front of the Camas Post Office would remain the same.

Lackey questioned whether the proposal would produce the intended result.

“By going to three hours, we just wonder, are you making your problems worse by extending the amount of time that somebody feels safe to occupy that space, thus creating less turnover, which is the desired goal of parking enforcement,” he said. “It does come down to a policy choice, whether it’s two, three or four [hours], based on input you get from businesses. [Parking enforcement] can manage a three-hour versus a two-hour, but it’s our belief it will create less turnover of people in those existing spaces.”

Brenda Schallberger, executive director of the DCA, said adding three-hour parking on Fifth Avenue would address complaints she has heard from owners of businesses that attract customers for extended periods of time.

“When I pass those two-hour spots on Fifth, many of them are empty,” she said. “So I thought that would be a great space for the salons and the Liberty Theatre to use for customer parking.”

To determine whether merchants in that area support such a change, City staff will solicit feedback and report the results to the City Council at its Nov. 18 meeting.

To address future parking concerns and issues, Higgins suggested that forming a parking commission, similar to what the city of Vancouver uses, might be an option.

The Vancouver Parking Committee meets monthly and is made up of appointed officials who advise City Council on policy issues related to all city-owned on-street and off-street parking facilities, and makes recommendations on facilities and parking regulations.Higgins said the City Council could discuss forming a parking commission and establishing its goals in January.

“That may be a way for us to move forward,” he said.