It boils down to 100 days. Woodland Park Zoo officials say parking demands exceed capacity 100 days a year, forcing visitors to park on area streets. You would think a shortage of zoo parking would anger Phinney Ridge neighborhood residents, but it's the zoo's revised plan to solve that overflow—an above-ground parking garage, finalized last fall—that has them steamed.
More than 200 people showed up at a City Council public hearing June 8 to voice their anger. The line stretched out the door of the Zoo Education Center near the North 50th Street gate toward the south lot, once the proposed site of a five-level, mostly underground garage. The revised plan would put an above-ground garage just off Phinney Avenue North, on the west side of the zoo.
The ostensible purpose of the hearing was to discuss how, not whether, the garage will be built. But instead, speakers talked of a decades-long relationship with a zoo they feel has betrayed them. As each expressed outrage over the revised garage plan, cheers erupted.
Residents who live west of the zoo are mad about the location and the fact that the garage is above ground. They're concerned about traffic congestion from the 700-stall garage. One resident likened the structure to a monolith. The new garage, in addition to existing surface lots, would provide sufficient parking on all but 33 days a year in 2020, the zoo says.
Besides feeling blindsided by the already-approved four-level, football-field-sized garage near the North Meadow, nearby Phinney residents weren't pleased with the suggested introduction of the Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) program that is in place in other parts of the city, which requires stickers for street parking. Some said they'd prefer a few days of tight parking, restriction-free, to needing a permit. Dan Phillips, the zoo's garage project manager, pointed out that the zoo can't impose an RPZ—only residents can do that. "However," said Philips, "we would love to have an RPZ around the zoo." Some residents think the zoo is pushing an RPZ to force visitors into the garage to help pay for it.
Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council, called the garage "a 365-day solution on a 100-day problem." While residents are hoping for a different solution to occasional overflow parking, the zoo is proceeding with its plan. The City Council held a public hearing last fall, at which the same concerns were aired, before approving the revised proposal.