City planners are not convinced a downtown parking shortage exists, but if Juneau is to build a parking garage and transit center it should include a mix of uses, according to a staff report to the Planning Commission.
The commission will review the project at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. at the Assembly chambers. The meeting will be open to public comment.
The Juneau Assembly has the final say in whether the project is built and how it will look. It is being planned on a lot at the corner of Main Street and Egan Drive.
The planning commission's power in the process is limited to a project recommendation to the Assembly based on the comprehensive plan, the waterfront plan and the land use code. It's considering two permits: an allowable use permit for the garage and a conditional use permit for the transit center.
Planners have recommended several design changes for the conditional use permit to the transit center.
But Rorie Watt, the deputy city engineer in charge of the project, said such specific design conditions are beyond the planners' purview.
"They're out of line. They're not following their code," Watt said.
Watt said the city needs the garage to increase the supply of parking, to support the Fee In Lieu program whereby businesses can pay their way out of providing parking spaces, and to progress on a potential Capitol site.
"Staff disagrees with the assessment of this study that there is an 'extreme shortage' of parking in downtown Juneau," wrote Ben Lyman, senior planner, in his report to the commission.
Better parking management, he wrote, could "drastically reduce" the perceived shortage without adding any spaces. Tools include creating residential parking zones, charging for the most convenient downtown parking, or preferential parking for carpools, he said.
The city plans to consider parking management after the garage is built.
The idea for the parking garage originated with a group of downtown business owners concerned about parking shortages. Voters agreed to fund the garage along with several other city projects.
Without active uses on the ground floor, the proposed garage also runs the risk of "repeating the same design mistakes as the existing (Marine Park) garage," Lyman wrote.
The Assembly voted not to include space for retail stores in the parking garage, a controversial move among citizens.
But mixed use doesn't necessarily mean retail, according to Lyman. It could mean space for nonprofit organizations, an art gallery, a permit center, or an auxiliary museum, as examples. The Assembly has not considered those options.
"There's nothing wrong with the mixed use idea," Watt said. "I think the idea is that mixed use would go across the street in the business district."
"It's expensive to build, and if you don't build it efficiently, you don't get much return on your investment," he said.
Among other suggestions, planners also recommended that the city:
install glass walls to avoid presenting a blank wall to passers-by;
include plenty of covered bike parking;
build the transit center two to three stories high instead of one story;
design so a Capitol complex or other mixed use could be built on top later;
plan for an eventual overpass between the waterfront and the facility;
plan for a shuttle to circulate through downtown;
run electricity, sewer and water to the garage to allow for mixed use later, if not immediately.
Planning staff reports are online at www.juneau.lib.ak.us/plancomm/staffreport.php.
Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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