Washougal eyes residential parking change

Scott: New standard would ‘reduce burden’ on City to provide parking

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Vehicles drive by the future location of the Vancouver Housing Authority housing complex at the corner of "A" Street and Washougal River Road in downtown Washougal on Monday, Aug. 21. (Doug FLanagan/Post-Record)

The city of Washougal has scheduled a public hearing for Monday, Aug. 28, to discuss a proposal that would change the parking requirements for residential construction within the City’s Town Center.

Currently, the City requires residences within its Town Center to provide a minimum of 0.5 parking stalls per unit. The proposal would increase the minimum requirements to one stall per studio unit; 1.5 stalls per one-bedroom unit two stalls per two-bedroom unit and above; and one stall per unit for senior housing.

“At this point, the Council is poised to increase the amount of required parking. We will continue to evaluate this issue as we move forward,” City Manager David Scott told the Post-Record. “One of the positives of this change is that the proposed parking requirements for developments in the Town Center will minimize the impacts to neighboring streets and properties. Additionally, the proposed requirements reduce the potential burden on the City to have to provide public parking.”

City staff initially brought up the issue with the Council during a workshop in October 2022.

“Their general perception (then) was that (0.5 stalls per unit) seemed like a ‘low’ requirement,” Scott said. “Although all the recent developments within the Town Center have developed with this parking requirement in place, none of them utilized it, instead deciding to provide at least one space per unit. The Council felt that our requirements were too low, and if a project developed utilizing the current parking requirement, there was the potential to create a parking problem for our Town Center.”

The councilors asked staff members to evaluate the situation and compare the City’s requirements with those of other local municipalities.

“This analysis found that Washougal’s requirements are in fact the lowest in the county, except for downtown Vancouver,” Scott said.

City staff forwarded the information to the City’s planning commission, which recommended that the Council raise the parking requirements for residential uses within the Town Center “to be consistent with Camas,” according to Scott, earlier this month.

“I’m really impressed that they came up with this,” Washougal Mayor David Stuebe said during a Council workshop session on Monday, Aug. 14. “I want to talk to everybody to make sure we’re making the right decision. But (it seems like) everybody is saying that it can’t be 0.5. Washougal is going to grow no matter what we do. It’s the way it is — it’s just expanding with the annexations and the movement. It’s going to be prime real estate, so we have to plan it right.”

Scott said that there are some downsides to the proposal, however.

“I certainly don’t want to speak for everybody, but there are some concerns,” he said during the workshop session. “Parking is not inexpensive, so we’re always trying to find the sweet spot between a portfolio of regulations and exactions and what we’re requiring for a development and not constraining that development. The market dynamic in our Town Center apparently continues to be challenging for projects to get off the ground, and it (takes) unique circumstances (to) allow a project like we’re seeing right now to happen.

“There’s some cautionary feedback to be careful about excessive parking requirements as a potential deterrent to meeting our vision for the Town Center in terms of new investment,” he continued. “You have to balance that with the reality on the street in terms of the impacts of projects that don’t have what we’re perceiving as adequate parking as they spill out, which is where the provision of public parking potentially comes into play because then the system can accommodate that. … Because there’s only so much space on a lot to deliver the parking, you might see smaller scale projects because more space is required for the parking.”

Scott later told the Post-Record that his “intent was to express that the desire to mitigate the impact of parking demand upon public streets or other public parking infrastructure potentially competes with the goal of ensuring that positive new development in (the) Town Center is viable.”

“If required parking is too high, there is the potential to truncate the scope of projects due to the need to use space for required parking,” he said. “As we move forward, we will need to continue to evaluate this issue to ensure that we find an appropriate balance between what we require for parking from development projects, City planning for public parking infrastructure, and the viability of future projects.”

The proposal could have a “significant impact” on the Vancouver Housing Authority’s plan to construct a workforce housing complex on two parcels of land in downtown Washougal, according to community development director Mitch Kneipp.

“It probably at a minimum would eliminate the commercial portion that we talked about with them that we wanted to see on the first floor,” Kneipp said during a workshop session on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. “If they have to increase their parking for the residential portion, they couldn’t have enough room on the site to provide parking for their commercial portion as well. … Parking is very expensive, so if they’re looking at the difference between 0.5 and one, you’re considering doubling their costs.”

Council member Michelle Wagner said that she would like to see the proposal “disengaged” from the VHA project.

“This isn’t in response to them, really,” she said during the October 2022 workshop session. “We became aware of how low our parking (minimums) were because of them, but I don’t see this as reactionary, necessarily, towards what’s going on (with the VHA project) versus our projected lack of parking in the future. We already (have a) lower (minimum) than comparable cities, and if we don’t do anything to stem it, it’s going to come back on the taxpayer to build some structure which we just can’t afford. To me, it’s an easy decision.”