Olympia parking costs may climb

OLYMPIA – The cost of parking in the now-free 90-minute zone in downtown Olympia could jump to 75 cents an hour in October, making those spaces the most expensive metered spots in the city. That’s one of the suggestions from the city staff members that the Olympia City Council will discuss tonight.

It will consider a 34-page parking strategy that could raise rates citywide in preparation for a proposed new parking garage or garages in downtown. The rationale for charging more for street and surface-lot parking is to avoid competing with a public parking garage, which is proposed to cost $75 a month.

Parking Services Manager Kip Dernovich said tonight’s discussion on the 75 cent charge and other issues is just the beginning, and the proposed rates could be changed. The goal is to make parking easier and more predictable.

“We’re trying to make sure that folks have all these options, all these choices,” he said.

The time limit at the now 90-minute zone would be dropped to 60 minutes — meaning a two-hour stay would cost $1.50.

Dernovich said the free zone has become a haven for downtown employees, taking away precious spaces for shoppers. Parking spots in the city core are more than 85 percent full, exceeding a national standard. Downtown needs 200 to 400 more stalls, said Councilman Joe Hyer, who has worked closely with city staff members on the parking issue and favors starting a parking garage this year.

To make a garage possible, there are other proposed rate increases, too.

According to the proposal:

 • In July 2010, hourly rates at the city’s current parking meters would increase. Three-hour meters would increase to 60 cents an hour from 50 cents and nine-hour meters would go to 50 cents from 35 cents. Fifteen-minute meters would stay the same – 1, 5 or 50 cents.

 • Also in July 2010, the Olympia-Franklin lot fee would rise to $50 per month from $30; Washington-Jefferson lot to $65 from $50 and a lot the city plans to acquire at Capitol Way and State Avenue would have its price set at $65 per month.

 • And in 2012, downtown residents who now park for $10 a year would have to pay $10 a month, or $120 a year. People who make below the federal poverty level – $10,830 a year for one person household – would be exempt.

 • Two-hour parking would still be free in a zone near Percival Landing.

 • There is no date specified to begin building a parking garage. The preferred site is the old Mills and Mills funeral home site at Fifth Avenue and Adams Street, and the city is negotiating with the owner there, Hyer said. Another possibility is a city property on State Avenue east of the Olympia Transit Center. A parking garage would cost between $13 million and $21 million.

When to build could be a topic of discussion at tonight’s meeting.

Parking has been a thorny issue for decades. The city has discussed adding a parking garage for more than 30 years.

The council voted 5-2 in January 2007 to end the free parking zone downtown but couldn’t agree on how much meters would charge or when to put it into effect.

The city’s goal is for short-term parkers, such as shoppers, to find parking within three blocks of their destination. Long-term parkers, such as downtown workers, would be within five-blocks.

“This will result in a parking system that pays for itself and creates revenues by the end of 2011,” the report says.

Areas which now have signs indicating 90-minute free parking in the city’s core would get new pay boxes. The kiosks, one per block, issue a receipt that is typically affixed to the passenger-side window as proof of payment. Seattle and Portland use the system.

Encouraging carpooling and bike-commuting are other suggestions in the study.

Parking services is in negotiations to buy two Intercity Transit lots on the southwest corner of State Avenue and Capitol Way and the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street.

In addition to offering more parking, the garages are meant to discourage surface parking so more land is available for development. That makes for a denser downtown that is more pedestrian-friendly.