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Parking permit 'solution' may add to problems

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Who has the 'right' to park on city streets? Homeowners, apartment dwellers square off over issue, with city in the middle

It's been many months now that Wilsonville has boiled over with controversy over street parking near its many apartment complexes and to mitigate that the City has adopted a plan to institute parking restrictions by request of neighbors.

Let's look at a hypothetical apartment complex. Maybe there are 100 units. According to city rules of 1.7 parking spots per unit, this complex was built with spots for 170 resident vehicles. Now let's say this complex is divided roughly in thirds, with 34 one-bedroom units, 33 two-bedroom and 33 three-bedroom. Again, using the city's current codes, this complex needs 170 parking spots onsite.

But perhaps half of those two-bedroom units have a second adult with a vehicle. And maybe half of the three-bedroom units have three driving adults. Do the math: 34 drivers plus 49 drivers plus 65 drivers.

That puts the total parking needs for this complex at 148 spots.

Can we say assuredly that an average 100-unit complex has 148 drivers? Absolutely not. It could be more. It could be less; perhaps many two- and three-bedroom units have children under driving age.

It wouldn't be hard to find out. If the city wanted to know if its 1.7-spots per unit requirement was adequate, a simple survey of how many adults per unit each complex had registered might be very revealing.

Adding to the complex issue is the fact that many apartment developments offer enclosed garages to residents who want to pay for the privilege. And like most Americans, it's a safe bet to say that the majority of those renters with a garage are filling it with stuff and parking elsewhere.

So now that 170-parking area complex has, say, 40 spots that are not being used for cars. Now it looks more like 130 spots for 148 drivers. Really muddying the waters are unregistered "guests" staying overnight and temporary issues like construction taking up what would normally be parking for regular residents.

So even in a perfect-case scenario, it would seem that the city's 1.7 parking spots per apartment unit does not provide off-street parking for all of the cars it "should."

However, let's look at the other side. Unlike Portland, where more than half of the single-family homes were built prior to WWll — after which family cars became ubiquitous — Wilsonville is filled with modern homes. Most have garages (albeit, probably filled with stuff, not cars) and room off-street to park two cars.

The streets outside these two-car garages are public and, theoretically, anyone can park there. But if homeowners happen to live close to one of those apartment complexes that's chronically short of parking spots then their block is often filled with cars from the apartments. And while homeowners from inner Portland neighborhoods would laugh at the "hardship" of a guest to their home having to park a block away, to Wilsonvillians accustomed to wide-open streets, it feels invasive to have so much street taken over by people who don't live next to it.

Complicating things for some owners are other matters beyond full streets, including concerns about emergency vehicles negotiating packed streets and nuisance behavior by drivers from nearby apartments.

The key issue seems to be: Who has the "right" to park on the streets? It seems indisputable that apartment dwellers overflow their property's footprint to park on nearby streets. But as anyone who has ever lived next door to a house with 5 cars and a small driveway can tell you, it's not just apartment residents who take more than their share of public parking.

Homeowners may feel their property tax payment gives them the right to utilize parking in front of their home. But apartment complexes pay a nice chuck of taxes too — do their residents have rights to some of that street real estate?

Many mitigations could have been used for this issue. The city could re-evaluate whether its current codes are enough to meet apartment parking needs. The city could have instituted an overnight permit-only parking program for afflicted streets or a maximum hour limit for parking.

Instead, the city opted to allow neighborhoods to request restricted-parking zones. Only permit holders can park on those streets without risking citation and only homeowners can purchase permits. The owners of apartment buildings on those streets, the ones who pay taxes too? They have no rights to buy permits.

It may be that in the end Wilsonville's solution to its parking "issue" causes more problems than it

solves.