Our view: The parking predicament

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The Steamboat Springs City Council finally has found a way to ensure the success of the Stock Bridge Transit Center -- build a justice center downtown without adequate parking.

Last week, the City Council chose to send a letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners stating that the city would be willing to eliminate the requirement for a parking garage if the county would reconsider building the new justice center downtown.

Given the history behind the justice center decision, the City Council's letter seems illogical and irresponsible.

In essence, what the City Council did was bypass its own public process and unilaterally grant the county an enormous variance on what is perhaps the most pressing issue facing downtown -- adequate parking.

Parking at the current courthouse is at or near capacity. A new justice facility would increase demand for parking while eliminating existing parking on Sixth Street. Throw in the new Ski & Bike Kare building across the street and the city has the perfect recipe for a parking disaster.

In developing its 2002 proposal for a downtown facility, the county went through the city planning process. The $3.5 million, 2 1/2-story garage with 127 parking spaces was the result of that process, and the City Planning Commission and the City Council signed off on that plan.

Ironically, the parking garage was one of the primary reasons voters rejected the plan. Had the City Council been as magnanimous about parking in 2002, the new downtown justice center might be well on its way to completion.

Now, the council has decided the parking that was such a major issue two years ago is no longer such a big deal. The city suggests addressing it by:

n Adding more parking spaces downtown by converting existing parallel spaces on Oak and Yampa streets to diagonal spaces.

n Promoting greater use of the free bus system and the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

n Providing a dedicated shuttle between the Stock Bridge Transit Center and the courthouse.

"It is our opinion that a comprehensive parking and downtown transportation plan consisting of these and other options could provide a new downtown justice center with adequate parking," the council wrote.

Such ideas simply make the city sound desperate in its efforts to have the county reverse its decision to build the new justice center west of downtown. Fortunately, the county thus far has chosen not to respond to the city's latest proposal.

Friends of the Justice Center Inc. and the city have made valid arguments on behalf of building a new justice center downtown. Those arguments include following the community plan by keeping essential government services in the heart of the community, preserving the downtown area and avoiding the disruption of wetlands west of downtown.

The city would be better served sticking to those arguments if -- as the council also urged in its letter -- the city gets a chance to meet with the county to "quietly and seriously" discuss the options for the new judicial facility.

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