$2 million expansion due for Southworth park-and-ride lot

To counter the booming demand for free parking in the Southworth area, Kitsap Transit will shell out nearly $560,000 this summer to expand its Harper Church park-and-ride lot, located at Sedgwick Road and Cottonwood Drive.

The current lot, with 122 parking stalls on a little over two acres, is way too small to meet even the current demand, said agency officials. Ferry commuters unwilling to brave the overcrowded parking lot at the Southworth dock — or unwilling to pay for a day’s parking — every day fill the church lot and then some. Like all Kitsap Transit park-and-rides, the church site is free.

“It’s beyond capacity,” said agency spokeswoman Gayle Thomson. “Beyond enough to have people parking on (nearby) Wilson Creek Road.”

Luckily, Thomson said, when Kitsap Transit started renting park-and-ride space from the church back in 1991, the site was picked with an eye to expansion. Starting in 2000, the agency started buying up adjoining parcels to build a real property base — a foundation for future expansions.

This summer, the first stage of expansion will begin as the facility swells onto 4.4 acres west and south of the current lot.

The total project will cost nearly $2 million but will add 288 more parking stalls, Thomson said. Although Kitsap Transit has had to foot the bill for the properties involved, more than half the construction costs — approximately $720,000 — will be covered by federal monies.

The agency actually started planning this project back in 2000, when it was poised to buy four properties adjoining the current lot. Three parcels were easy to acquire but the fourth, which was approved for purchase just last week, presented more of a problem. The truth is, Thomson said, Kitsap Transit has been in a holding pattern for the past year and a half, waiting for Kitsap County to vacate a small access road that cuts between the fourth property and the other three.

For legal reasons Thomson couldn’t elaborate on, Kitsap Transit was prohibited from buying the last parcel — owned by the Rowe family — until they had permission to use the road.

That approval came through this spring.

“It took forever,” Thomson said, detailing the complex petition process required in any vacation request.

That delay also jacked up the appraised value of the Rowe property — what was a $137,000 piece of property in 2000 is now worth $155,000. Kitsap Transit, in accordance with its own by-laws, will also pay $3,000 to help the Rowes relocate.

Thomson said the agency will probably incorporate the 2.25-acre Rowe property and another similar-sized property into the park-and-ride in about five years. However, she couldn’t say how long that final expansion would accommodate demand before still more property was needed. Thomson said it was simply a matter of how many people moved to the area between now and then.

“It is the growth — and the (Tacoma Narrows) bridge,” she said.

Luckily, Thomson said, the community seems very accepting of the ever-growing lot. She said Kitsap Transit held numerous public meeting on the subject to make sure concerns were heard and addressed. Among other devices to make the lot more attractive, Thomson said “superior landscaping” will be a high priority in the project.

“It’s designed to be a friendly neighbor and not be obtrusive,” she said. “It won’t be a blight on the neighborhood by any means.”

The neighboring church, from which Kitsap Transit still leases approximately two-thirds of an acre, is just thrilled to have all the extra parking, Thomson said. Although the lot is full during the week, there’s always plenty of room for church-goers on the weekends.

“They have full use of the parking lot,” Thomson said.

Kitsap Transit hopes to go out for bids sometime in July and start construction soon after that.

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