El Centro proposes parking lot

The El Centro building on opening day of Festival Street in December 2009. The lot behind the chain-link fence is proposed to become a temporary parking lot until it can be developed. Photo by Jason.
(Updated at 12:48 p.m. to add a link to Estela Ortega’s letter. The link was mistakenly left out of the story when posted earlier this morning. — Ed.)

El Centro de la Raza is seeking permission from the city to open a parking lot south of the El Centro building until the land on that site can be developed, and is asking neighbors to support this proposal.

A January 31 letter from El Centro’s Estela Ortega (read the full letter here) to the Beacon Hill community requests support for a temporary parking lot in El Centro’s south lot, adjacent to Beacon Hill Station. The proposal is for 80 public parking spaces, to “help generate much needed revenue to support (El Centro’s) programs and mission during these difficult economic times.” The letter goes on to describe potential benefits to the neighborhood including security improvements, access to Link Light Rail and neighborhood businesses, hosting of mobile food vendors, and parking for Festival Street events.

Currently new parking lots are not allowed in light rail station areas. A current proposed land use amendment would allow interim parking use on lots that already have legally established parking near Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello and Rainier Beach Stations, but the proposal says “Light rail parking would not be allowed within the North Beacon Hill station area.” However, though El Centro is adjacent to the station, it is not within the officially-defined “station area.” The land use amendment currently being considered would allow commuter and business parking on certain lots such as El Centro’s that are just outside the station area and already have existing parking.

You can give your opinion on the proposed parking lot at a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on the Built Environment on Wednesday, February 23 at 9:30 am in the City Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue.

Ortega’s letter lists other El Centro items of note:

  • Santos Rodriguez Park has new playground equipment and is open to all neighbors. $350,000 in funding from the Seattle Parks Opportunity Fund will be used to improve the park further, with input from a community advisory committee.
  • South Lander Street between 16th and 17th Avenues South will be renamed Roberto Maestas Festival Street in honor of El Centro’s late principal founder and leader. Lewis Park, at the north end of Beacon Hill near the Dr. Jose Rizal Bridge will be renamed the Roberto Maestas Nature Park.
  • El Centro has received funding to begin a community process to plan the development of their south lot. A community meeting is planned for Saturday, February 19 to discuss the project. The meeting time will be announced later.

Also at El Centro:

  • United Way is operating a free tax preparation site. In addition to filing tax returns, customers will be able to purchase savings bonds, open credit union accounts, sign up for prepaid debit cards, and apply for public benefits such as the Washington Basic Food Program. Hours are Tuesdays from 5-9 p.m. (English, Spanish, and Arabic), Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. (English, Spanish, and Chinese), and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. (English and Spanish).
  • Spanish classes at El Centro will run from April 12 until June 9, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuition is $300. Please contact 206-957-4605 or execasst@elcentrodelaraza.org for more info, or visit the El Centro website to enroll.
  • The Just Garden Project is kicking off their Spring into Bed fundraising campaign with an event at El Centro on March 5 from 7-9 p.m. Proceeds from the event go to building free and subsidized gardens for low-income families in King County. See the invitation for more info.
  • Estela Ortega has been confirmed as one of 14 community members to serve on the city’s Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee III. This is the third committee of its kind that has selected to advise the city on questions that affect transportation in Seattle. Other members represent organizations including (among others) Cascade Bicycle Club, Downtown Seattle Association, Carpenters’ Union Local 131, Transportation Choices Coalition, and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

24 thoughts on “El Centro proposes parking lot”

  1. Wow, that is a big deal. Thanks for posting this Wendi. I’m curious if a formal design has been drawn up for this, or are we just talking about a giant open parking lot? The word that keeps sticking with me is ‘temporary’. The Eiffel Tower was built as a ‘temporary’ structure in 1889.
    I understand and sympathize with El Centro’s need for income, but it is difficult to imagine that this is what Roberto Maestas had in mind when he squatted in the building many years ago. It seems like there should be some way to use this space for income in a way that serves the community better than parking, even temporarily.
    I’m just imagining what this would be like on game days. Much more traffic from people with no investment in the community that would simply be leaving as quickly as possible.

  2. El Centro has said what they’d like to use the land for that would serve the community better than parking. But they’ve been blocked, at least temporarily, from pursuing those plans. A parking lot seems pretty inevitable until the question of zoning is resolved.

  3. Instead of transforming the space into a parking lot, the city should use their planning resources to resolve the zoning dispute. It’s almost unbelievable how long the process has taken. I don’t think a parking lot is an effective use of this space. The sooner El Centro can start construction, the better for the neighborhood (new jobs, businesses, etc.). A parking lot will not provide consistent funding and there’s always the risk that construction will never start…

  4. I think it is pretty unfair for El Centro to profit from a parking lot on this site. Hasn’t El Centro already recieved enough benfits from the City when they took over this property. They will surely benfit by the sale and rezone of this lot. If there is a profit to be made from this property it should benfit the whole community not just the latin american community and we should all have a say in how the money is spent.

  5. Hi all,

    I forgot to post the link to El Centro’s letter. I apologize. I’ve added the link now and you can see it in the second paragraph of the story.

  6. For now, El Centro is offering huge incentives to the community if this parking lot is approved. Free parking for food trucks during festival street events, space for vendors/farmer’s market…many of the things neighbors & blog commenters have stated we want.

    My biggest concern is that zoning for appropriate development move forward as quickly and smoothly as possible so measures like this aren’t necessary for very long.

    If the parking lot is not allowed, what will be there? How safe, publically accessible, visually appealing or useful will it be?

  7. This is clearly a money/power grab by La Raza, but given the speed of which the city is addressing the zoning issue(s), understandable. I agree with the previous dissenting commenters, and the reasons why. Once La Raza is given permission to do this, do you actually believe they will forfeit this easy revenue stream? (given their history?)

  8. I wouldn’t necessarily consider the list of incentives to be “huge”, and find it surprising that some of those items are held out to the community as bait for a vote of support. The Beacon Hill community could certainly find alternatives if El Centro doesn’t allow vendor parking, etc. on their vacant lot if they aren’t allowed to develop parking. This proposal is in direct conflict with the pedestrian-oriented and transit-oriented zoning changes that have already been inplemented in the surrounding area. I just don’t know why the El Centro block would have been left out of the station overlay, being directly across the street. I certainly hope that the strong opposition to developing commuter parking in the heart of Beacon Hill that was shown toward the City’s proposal hasn’t disappeared simply because it is El Centro providing the parking.

  9. Raza has a parking lot that is usually half empty but, THIS LAND IS ADJACENT TO A LIGHT RAIL – so, Raza insiders will park there, and go to work downtown. If this isn’t stated, it’s what will happen.

    Isn’t parking along light rail contrary to the transit solution?

    How will parking “generate revenue” for Raza unless they install meters? What “huge incentives” for the community? Food trucks for the six days a year when people might congregate there? No gracias.

    Respetuosamente indeed!

  10. Roberto didn’t squat for a parking lot.

    My fear is that this temporary plan will become permanent and the core of our neighborhood will be an eye sore and a missed opportunity.

    Contrary to your mission, this will not be for all people, but for those with cars, who can afford to pay for parking, who live somewhere else.

    El Centro – please work towards a more thoughtful, creative solution. Our community deserves better.

  11. Re Ash: I think “Raza insiders” can already park for free in the north lot and walk the hundred yards. And I think the revenue collection will look pretty similar to most open air pay lots at the edge of downtown in SODO or South Lake Union.

    Generally speaking I’m in favor, just because parking isn’t much worse than the open lot thats there now. I do have two concerns:

    1. Fencing. I certainly hope the fenceline around El Centro is at the north end of the parking lot. It should be open between the lot and the Festival Street to facilitate any events like Beacon Rocks, food trucks or (hopefully) farmer’s markets.

    2. Mud/Rocks. If the lots stays gravel, which seems likely, I’d want El Centro to have some sort of plan for occasional cleanup. The gravel “alley” behind the station tracks lots of rocks out onto the Festival Street even with the low traffic from transit cop parking. I can only imagine what a park and ride lot will generate.

  12. In the early days of El Centro de la Raza one can well imagine Roberto and crew singing “They paved paradise / to put up a parking lot”
    But what’s missing is the pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot…

  13. @Ash: Yes, parking is contrary to transit oriented development. That’s why the goal is to create housing and commercial space. But the realities of the economic times we’re in call for something to be done in the mean time. As far as meters go…that’s exactly what we’re talking about. It will be metered.

    @Heather: You’re right about one thing…Roberto and others (including my grandmother) didn’t occupy the building for a parking lot. They occupied it to build a home and a community. That is exactly what we are trying to do today. In the last 38 years El Centro has never been static. We’ve gone from a small ESL program to having over 30 direct human service programs. We have never just “stopped” with a parking lot. To say Roberto and others “squatted” is to imply that there has not been movement. But I would invite you to see the movement and see how things are constantly growing and building. The economics call for a parking lot, hopefully for just a few short years. But the dreams that our founders had, and we’re committed to seeing them happen, are for continued growth and development, not just a place to park my car. We invite you to think beyond that and see the bigger picture. Our mission does call for this to be for all people…that’s why the revenue from it will be for our programs…as opposed to an empty lot that won’t do anything for our people. We are working towards a more thoughtful plan…that’s exactly what we’re presenting. I think a temporary parking lot is far more thoughtful than an empty lot.

    @Patrick: I think each of your points are things we can work towards planning around. They are really good points and definitely something that we need to keep in mind. Please continue to bring those kinds of things to our attention. Let’s keep talking about it.

  14. Has anyone attempted to project what the potential economic impact to other businesses in the retail core might be from having a parking lot? I could easily see Red Apple and The Station benefiting from people stopping in as they transition from mass transit to personal transit. I’m not sure what other businesses might get more foot traffic, but it’s possible that for the time there’s a parking lot on the space the business district in general might be more prosperous. And the potential of increased revenue might even provide some leverage to encourage thoughtful development of the lots around the light rail station.

    I’m not saying any of this is a forgone conclusion, just that it’s the sort of things I’d like to know people are thinking about as they form their opinions. I’m personally pretty ambivalent about the parking lot. I’d rather see buildings, but I recognize that El Centro doesn’t have a lot of options for using the land under current circumstances. I also can’t think of any farmer’s markets in the city that don’t take place on parking lots, and think this could be a real opportunity if well-considered commitments are put in place.

  15. A parking lot may not be what North Beacon Hill always dreamed of having on this land, but to say it’s better for it to remain an expanse of gravel and weeds enclosed by chain-link fencing is short-sighted and a waste of a potential opportunity for this neighborhood.

    I agree with Brook. Raza would not be the only beneficiary from the proposed use of space that is currently an unused eyesore–many small neighborhood businessess would also have a new potential customer base.

    That said, a commuter park-and-ride will have an impact on the neighborhood, so perhaps Raza should offer some concessions to the surrounding BeHi community, in return for our support of this means of generating revenue:

    ¿ weekday parking only, and the space is available for BeHi community use on weekends (an open-air market? cultural events (e.g., Beacon Rocks)?)

    ¿ a certain percentage of the proceeds go to non-Raza community programs?

    Rather than simply shooting this down, isn’t it worth brainstorming some ways that this could benefit everyone, and attempting a dialog that would ensure a desired outcome?

  16. Neighbors-

    Below are my commments posted to the BH email list, thought I’d add them in here.

    The presentation from El Centro at the NBHC meeting was forthcoming and heard by a pretty full room.

    I appreciate Chris’s informative comments and his sticking with the saga. Another bit of info to add is that the property was a, asphalt parking lot and a concrete basketball court prior to Sound Transit’s lease for construction staging. Sound Transit and El Centro are negotiating now about how ST will leave it. It was indicated by El Centro at the meeting Thursday that ST is obligated to leave it the way they found it – or compensate El Centro accordingly. El Centro’s current preference is a gravel parking lot, the reason cited being it will be less expensive to demolish later when they get to building the mixed-use development they are starting to plan (Feb 19th public meeting, see the BH Blog for time).

    A lot of discussion at the NBHC meeting was about fencing the proposed lot, what the fencing would look like and how easy it would be to move through the parking lot on foot – to the Station (either of them), the Festival Street and to 17th. As described at the meeting on Thursday, the fencing would be for security of the El Centro property and Building and it would include locking gates at the auto and pedestrian entrances.

    I voiced my distaste for such a fence pretty strongly, and here’s why: 1) any security fence will be tall – its to keep people out – this is just the opposite of what El Centro should be projecting to the public. 2) fencing off the parking lot from the festival street will discourage movement between the two spaces during events or day-to-day taco truck operations. 3) locking the parking lot is unfeasible, people come back late at night from downtown, etc. 4) Its rare that we see fences that are aesthetically pleasing, especially if they are temporary.

    And to stay on the aesthetic for a moment, I’d like to see El Centro consider putting the basketball court back in place – having some adults out there having fun in the evening should do well for security, and activate the area positively. Paving at least part of the lot will be advantageous for any micro vending that would develop as well.

    So, I’m not opposed to having a parking lot on the south side of El Centro, but I do have reservations. I’d like to encourage El Centro to think more broadly about interim uses for the space, especially for more payback than daily parking fees. There must be entrepreneurs within the El Centro and Beacon Hill communities that would be willing to have a go at something out of a truck.

    David Gackenbach

  17. Nice comments Brook Enrique and Patrick.

    I’m ambivalent about a parking lot, since at first glance it seems like housing and commercial space would be better, but there are many ways a parking lot could be beneficial to the community. But the details do matter. Any fencing should be at the north end, and the lot should help connect El Centro to the Festival St. A large gravel area facing the Festival St that could be a food court (which shouldn’t be free–it should be a decent revenue stream for El Centro!). I think 80 is too many pay spots, half that is what the original permit was for. I doubt that 50 would ever fill up, unfortunately. Careful design of lighting would be key. How about putting the basketball court back? If it were adjacent to the pagoda it could be a dance floor when there were bands there. Sound Transit should be putting it all back, and none of that should be costing El Centro.

    I’m concerned about how temporary temporary is, but in some ways an active well planned parking lot could add a lot of great activity on the Festival St and help connect El Centro better, as well as generate revenue for them. Some kind of proposal or agreement about how the lots could be used for a farmers or flea market would make sense.

    As for the zoning dispute, it doesn’t exist. I think there’s a pretty broad consensus that all the lots around the light rail will be zoned NC-65. We should support that if we want to see anything ever get built there, and council and city govt should speed it up. And if El Centro’s development is on the back burner, we could all focus on trying to get something built on the Lee and Tucci lots, which are even more important, and problematic in multiple ways.

    People should focus on respectful dialogue leading to solutions.

  18. David, I wish I’d made it to the meeting for the fence discussion, but my workday didn’t end until after 8:00. I’d add to your concerns about a fence that an unfenced parking lot that people can move in and out of freely will be more integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood. An aesthetically pleasing fence might be solid and block visibility, which could cause security issues. I walk along 16th a lot and sometimes see deals going down in the dark stretches, or between cars pulling into El Centro’s west driveway. A parking lot with a solid fence might become another attractive spot for that sort of thing.

    I’m no basketball player, but I miss cutting along the south side of El Centro when people were playing. It gave some life to the neighborhood that’s a bit missing now. A court closer to 16th and Lander where it would be visible could be a nice addition.

    Robert, given that there are already some people who’ve figured out they can park on Beacon Hill’s side streets and Light Rail it to the stadiums, I wonder if 80 spots might actually fill up more than we’d guess. If so, the trick is figuring out how to get them to all spend a couple of bucks supporting other local businesses.

  19. Yes, the property prior to the station being built was a parking lot and that is what it will be returned to. I have concerns/comments about this space becoming a paid lot and many of them are shared by previous commenters.

    My biggest concern is the lack of definition of what temporary will mean for this lot. I was excited to learn of the plans for developing the property and gladly support an exception to the zoning limit for their development, but with no willingness to commit to a time limit for the life of the parking lot, will that perfect time for development ever happen? We can always live with the idea that the economy will get better and just think how much better if we wait another year or another…?

    I also seriously question the amount this lot will be used. In the times that I actually drive the half-mile from my house to this business district, I have never had issues with finding parking. I’ve parked in front of the hair salon I frequent, I’ve parked on 16th across from The Station for using LLR (the 4 hour limit side is very generous) and I park in front of the library. I’m also confused by Enrique’s comment that it will be metered. So are these meters installed by El Centro and what are they suggesting as a parking rate?

    People talk about making our business district a destination for people. I have friends drive here from Kenmore and Woodinville for some of the services in our business district. They don’t complain about the parking and if that doesn’t fit a destination, I don’t know what does.

    I don’t like the idea of having an entrance/exit on Lander. I think it all should go out on 17th. Along those lines, I also agree with others that the south end of the lot should be open to facilitate movement to LLR. We need transit oriented development and this can help to retain that idea. I also agree with comments about the fencing on the remaining sides and I would really like to see the basketball court go up again.

    Another thing I’m bothered by and which has also been raised by other commenters, are the enticements El Centro is offering. El Centro could have very easily received the lot back from ST and put word out for food vendor trucks on their own. Wouldn’t it have been great if they could have used their reputation and location and sought that service out without it being presented as a carrot on a stick – do this and here’s your reward?

    The Tucci and Lee families were also mentioned before. My biggest fear is that granting this paid lot to El Centro will give these two families reason to attempt their own parking lots. I know the BH station was pulled out of that plan, but I have heard nothing to suggest either of these families are interested in the larger good of the neighborhood by working together in development of their own properties and I worry they will go after the quick buck.

    We talk about our business district, but let’s face it, we need more businesses. Many of the current business owners aren’t looking to sell or develop their own property so we really need this development on El Centro’s lot. Bring in the housing and more retail space. Let’s push DPD on the zoning changes. Show up on the 19th to make your voice heard on the development. Let’s get a commitment from El Centro on the life of this lot. They survived without parking revenue before ST took it over and they can find a way to do it again.

  20. Given that El Centro has made it clear they see the best way to use that land to support their mission is to develop it, I don’t share the concerns others do about it remaining a parking lot because El Centro doesn’t want to do more with it. I do have some concerns that the realities of the neighborhood in general may keep it a parking lot for longer than I’d like, but I’d much rather see that land being used to generate revenue for a business based in the neighborhood than simply sitting underutilized.

    I sincerely hope El Centro does not further develop the property until the market conditions make sense to do it. I’ve seen enough “build it and they will come” business plans not make it on the hill in the past few years.

  21. As someone living too far south of the light rail to walk there, but still on Beacon Hill, I would love to see a place to park near the station so I could ride the train more. Otherwise I’ll keep my 10 minute drive to work downtown vs. the 45+ minute bus ride or bus/train transfer. I hate that I seem so close to the train but can’t really utilize it effectively. And yeah, I would stop off for coffee or a beer or a few groceries on a regular basis if I was getting off the train there. Right now I just go to Georgetown for that. Agreed, it’s not the long term plan for how the area around the station will be best used, but seems a decent use of the area for now.

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