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Planning Commission Okays Big Blue Bus Expansion, Frowns on Parking Lot Plans

By Teresa Rochester

Plans for a possible parking structure at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard remained in limbo Wednesday night when the Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council exclude the structure from its deliberations on the expansion of the City's bus yard.

To the chagrin of city staff, commissioners said that the proposed 18,836-square-foot structure with 650 parking spaces should not be part of the Big Blue Bus expansion's Environmental Impact Report, since it was no longer needed for bus employee parking. The also questioned the accuracy of the EIR's traffic counts.

While the City currently has no money to buy the land -- where several small businesses are located -- staff argued that it was advantageous to include the contemplated garage because it had been tapped as a possible solution to ease the downtown parking crunch.

"If indeed this is identified as a viable location it's good that there's already an EIR," said Planning Director Suzanne Frick. "There will still be public design reviews."

Commissioners didn't buy the argument.

"I don't think the parking structure should ever be a part of this plan," Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad said. "This is not related to the bus facility. I don't think it should be included here. It was a matter of convenience [for staff] but of great inconvenience for others... So I can't, in good consciousness, approve this."

Tenants and the owner of the proposed structure's site said they have been in limbo for more than a year, adding that the future of their businesses is in the hands of a City that told them months ago to prepare to move out by January. Speakers pleaded with the commission for a straight answer.

"We'd like to know what's going on," said Steve Correa, owner of Correa Art Glass. "It's a tough way to do business."

Frick said there would be no firm answer for the tenants until the discussion on downtown parking concludes sometime next year. In January, a City commissioned task force will explore whether the site could be used for remote parking by employees of downtown, who currently use the overburdened structures flanking the Third Street Promenade.

"There are no vacant parcels in the downtown," Frick said. "If the City is going to move forward with remote parking they will likely use eminent domain."

With the Commission's tentative thumbs up to certify the project (excluding the parking structure and current traffic analysis), the Council will take up the proposed expansion -- expected to be completed by 2004 -- during the first half of next year.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission raised concerns about the impacts of the proposed expansion of the bus yard, which sits on 8.5 acres and is located on the south side of Colorado Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets.

Suspicious of data used in the EIR to analyze traffic impacts, the commissioners unanimously agreed to recommend that the City Council not certify the current traffic counts until they are corrected and revised.

Commissioners argued that the traffic counts were conflicting and unreliable, noting that one notoriously congested intersection was ranked as a "B."

Traffic consultants for the project said they had used numbers provided by the City as a baseline. Consultants projected that 10 percent of car trips in the area will be new trips connected to the project.

"If I were you I would not claim ownership of this either," commission chair Kelly Olsen told a traffic consultant.

The first phase of the expansion will include the construction of a new 14,593 square foot building used to fuel, service, inspect and wash the buses. The new facility will service existing buses, as well as the new alternative energy buses that will arrive in January and that will be fueled by liquefied natural gas.

During the second and third phase, the existing Big Blue Bus administration building will be remodeled and upgraded to meet current earthquake codes. Approximately 8,000 square-feet of additional office space will be added. Old maintenance buildings, fueling facilities and the current bus wash will be torn down.

The building housing the City's print shop, the Ocean Park Community Center Access Center and the Daybreak Shelter also will be torn down. A new two-story, 42,000-square-foot maintenance building will be built, along with a 46,500 square foot building that will house offices, bus driver training rooms, the shelter and homeless access center. Phase two will conclude in mid-2002 with phase three ending in mid to late 2003.

Phase four entails the demolition of the existing maintenance building and final re-paving and striping of the bus yard to accommodate 211 buses.

Phase five - if approved by the council -- would be the construction of the new downtown parking structure.

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