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Parking – To Park or Not To Park, That is the Question

To Park or Not To Park, That is the Question

By Anita Aurit

The Kaniksu Health vs Kochava parking war moved into phase 2 at the November 16th meeting and the issue took up the bulk of the meeting.

The “outreach to downtown businesses” was mentioned again as regards the city’s entering into an agreement with Kaniksu health. The mayor noted (as he has done at previous meetings) that he had been going “door to door” to speak with merchants about this matter. The statement was made that there was “little concern about future parking issues”.  I find this interesting as the local businesses I know and have spoken with were never visited by the mayor and they have genuine concerns regarding the parking situation.

The statement was made that Kaniksu will pay half of the $20,000.00 parking study, (I guess the taxpayers pay for the other $20,000.00?). Kaniksu expressed some concerns about some of the changes of time as noted in the lease and the council noted that the change of the building size would affect the number of parking spaces needed.

Councilwoman Williamson wanted verification that if the building size was reduced, the need for parking spaces for Kaniksu would be reduced as well.  The Kaniksu representative (Richard Villelli)  said “yes” but then stated, ..but we still have the same number of practitioners and patients.” The Kaniksu representative said that instead of a unilateral agreement, they would prefer a bilateral agreement so that Kaniksu would also have input.

Councilwoman Williamson wondered whether some data could be found regarding parking needs and Villelli responded there is no data, the normal guideline is 4 spaces per 1,000 sq. feet of building.  He noted that “Kochava people park and stay. Some Kaniksu people stay but many come and go.”

Councilwoman Williamson asked if a study had been done taking public transportation into consideration. The mayor said that the study the city had looked at had noted 4.5 spots for 1,000 square feet but “that’s in urban areas”.  It was noted that Kaniksu’s Ponderay facility is a stand-alone and that people have to drive there. Downtown Sandpoint is very “walkable”.

When asked if he had a rendering, Mr. Villelli said had one when they were talking with Kochava. (I have no idea what this means). He reiterated again that the building would be a green “timber mass” building.

Public  Comment on the Parking Issue

parkThe public comment was heavily weighted with Kaniksu employees. One Kaniksu employee spoke about the care and commitment of Kaniksu had for the community, “some of my patie4nts are homeless…they just need someone to believe in them.”  Someone else commented that, “there is an abundance of parking here. It hurts me to see so many vacancies in town. For us to brink Kaniksu into our core would benefit economic development. For me, I see it as a win.”

A doctor said he looks at Kaniksu moving downtown as a benefit to Kaniksu and our hospital and said, ‘…it’s imperative to get Kaniksu under one roof.”  The Kaniksu CEO, Victoria King gave another impassioned speech about how Kaniksu “gives back to the community” stated that it is very hard for critical care hospitals to survive in rural communities and having Kaniksu downtown would help the hospital.

Those representing the concerns of businesses noted the following, (Eric Larson) Kochava already uses 25% of the downtown parking, and parking is the #1 complaint of his customers. A representative from Finnan McDonald noted that he had a master’s degree in planning and his assessment has been (for a long time) that there is not enough parking in the downtown core. He said that the Hudson study, done 10 years ago would address some of the existing parking issues. He strongly urged the city to address the parking issues.

Jeremy Grimm, who noted he was speaking for himself as a private citizen stated that the procedure for the Kaniksu parking was neither transparent nor inclusive. He noted that the downtown parking lot has been jam-packed and wondered if perhaps, the hospital would be willing to offer some of their spots at the new facility. He said, “You are going to displace people already using the lot. I encourage you to step back and reconsider, come up with a plan that doesn’t favor one business over another.”

The COO of Kaniksu, Kevin Knepper rushed to the podium and turned toward the audience saying, “I want to call Mr. Grimm out” and then began an angry speech. This was far too much like the horrible experience I had when I was verbally attacked at a council meeting and I sat shaking my head murmuring, “no, no”. Finally Mr. Knepper was stopped and reminded not to address the audience or anyone personally.

And the Debate Continued…

parkCouncilman Snedden said he had two concerns in dealing with “shared resources”. “I have to balance the needs of both interests. You’ve requested 60 spaces; it would help me to know what these would be used for.”

Mr. Knepper responded that they have 66 spaces in Ponderay, and are challenged with patients cancelling because there is no parking. He said they would designate some of the 60 spaces for patient but they also need staff parking.

Councilman Snedden, “This is the most valuable parking in the city and you want to utilize 50% of it. Could your employees park somewhere else?”

Mr. Knepper noted that he doesn’t want to tie up space that they’re not using but space for parking has to be “secure’.

Councilman Snedden, “Could we do 30 spots in the downtown lot and 30 spots somewhere else? “ He said that although Kaniksu is willing to pay fair market value for the parking, that doesn’t get the city a new parking structure, He asked, “Would Kaniksu be willing to pay 1.5% over market?

Mr. Knepper said he couldn’t answer that. Perhaps, but it depends on what “over market” is.

Councilwoman Ruehle joined the conversation and said, “I have heard different numbers. You said you had 20 employees that are already downtown. Are you counting these as new numbers?”

Mr. Knepper said the 85 number does include the 20 employees already here in the downtown. He then talked about the new jobs that would be added and Councilwoman Ruehle asked for a breakdown of staff salaries. Mr. Knepper provided an estimate of the breakdown.

Councilwoman Ruehle asked about the requirement that Kaniksu take everyone who came in. Mr. Knepper get a bit testy and rather than addressing the question began a speech about the high level of service they offer and how they had partnered with the school district, despite the fact that their project with the schools ran at a loss.

Councilman Snedden addressed some questions to Mr. Villelli. He said, “Since the last meeting we made some changes that were not acceptable to you. I understand the tie in with the financing. My concern is scalability, if you build something smaller would you scale back more? “

Mr. Villelli, “The premise you’re working under fails. If I can scale down the common area it still doesn’t change the number of patients we see. If you charge us more, it won’t change the number of patients we see.   Our initial idea was to build a parking garage for the city but we don’t have the time and the city couldn’t make it happen. I spoke to Jeremy (Grimm) several years ago about this.”

Councilman Snedden, “You’re not answering my question. If you build a 4000 square feet building you still get the same number of spaces. “

Mr. Villelli, “We use 265,000 hours parking time per year. The net result is the city would lose 3.6 parking spaces per year; we’re not using parking spaces in the evenings and on weekends. You’re gaining and being paid for 60 spots per month.”

Councilman Snedden, “Does your financing require the quality of parking?

Mr. Villelli, “I can’t tell you, it depends on the lender but I believe financing will be possible with the 60 spots.”

Councilman Snedden, “Do you object to some parking not in the city lot? “ It will probably be required by lender to have a specific amount of parking.  Villelli responded that he didn’t think it would be a problem.

Councilman Snedden, “Can you agree to 30 spots downtown and 30 spots elsewhere?”

Councilman Camp asked about after hours parking and Mr. Villelli pointed out how the Hive would benefit (parking would be available at night only in their facility)

Councilwoman Williamson, “Should we expect one business to pay for a new parking structure and not another business?” (Note, no downtown businesses have secured parking spaces in the downtown lot which makes this argument invalid)

Councilwoman Ruehle than stated she wanted to know specifics of what the mayor found out from his contact with local businesses. The mayor responded that he spoke to businesses at a local retailers meeting, he went “door to door” and did a radio broadcast. He said that overwhelming everyone sees this as positive. He then noted the $7-9 million in construction revenue and salaries. (To the best of my knowledge, new jobs are not being created; they are being moved into the city core. Those employees will continue to live and shop where they have always lived and shopped).  He then said that in the wake of Thorne leaving, the city has to do everything it can”

He finished by saying he didn’t speak with a single person that didn’t agree with this parking agreement with Kaniksu and only 1 business was outright opposed and that was Kochava, the vast majority of businesses were very much in favor .

Councilman Camp, “I spoke with 6 businesses and they had question was parking. They agreed that the Kaniksu move was good but they also felt small businesses were being ignored. Some also asked why the lot was made free parking after Kochava came in.

The mayor again negated any argument questioning the parking agreement and said that with the new parking plan, the city created 128 new spaces and that doesn’t include city beach. And much 2-hour parking has been changed to 3-hour parking.

Councilman Camp, “Businesses would like to see the city be more proactive.

An amendment of the last section of the agreement was proposed by Councilman Snedden that the parties agree to make any unused spaces available and the amendment passed.

Other amendments were made (you can read the details in the meeting minutes). The mayor was not a fan of them all stating that “The city lot is the most valuable parking. What’s considered as the most valuable parking is also free parking.”  Dear Mayor, none of the businesses asked for the parking to be free and in my humble opinion this was done to benefit one specific business (Kochava)  and not the downtown businesses in general.) 

When the final vote was called, Councilwoman Ruehle spoke in solidarity with small businesses. She said a public workshop should have been scheduled to obtain input from all those downtown businesses who were not contacted.  The assumptions on the economic impact from this development should have been considered through a study. She also named specific businesses asking the mayor if he had contacted each one. He had to admit he had not contacted them…

 My Two Cents

parkingHat Tip to Councilwoman Reuhle for sticking to her guns and forcing the mayor to admit that he had not visited all the businesses around the downtown lot as he led us to believe.

Hat Tip to Councilman Snedden for standing firm in his negotiations to attempt to preserve some downtown parking in the lot for customers of local businesses.

The statement the Mayor makes repeatedly, “A full parking lot is a good problem to have” is ridiculous. The changes the council made, making the downtown lot free and allowing overnight parking has been a disaster. One local business has been using most of the lot for it’s employees who park there all day and many business owners around the lot come to work in the morning to see people in trailers and other vehicles living in the lot overnight. Having a 2 or 3 hour limit for parking worked well for the businesses and for the customers. I frequent several businesses around the downtown lot. I go in and am gone within two hours, allowing another customer to park and frequent the businesses.

I am weary of the argument of how much revenue the Kaniksu patients and employees will bring to Sandpoint. These people aren’t moving into the city limits, I’m sure all employees will remain where they live now, shop where they’ve always shopped, dined where they’ve always dined. The city may receive more taxes from Kaniksu’s presence in the city core but I would be quite surprised if the businesses see any considerable uptick in business because of the move.


Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.