SODO Voices: City needs to work with Sodo businesses to update parking rules

Opinion: City needs to work with Sodo businesses to update parking rules
By Darby DuComb
Mar 9, 2018, 2:00am PST

Sodo’s local business owners are suffering needlessly. City rules are causing conflicts between parking and loading zones, and the city regularly hands out parking tickets to businesses that are using their loading docks.

In Sodo, building access is particularly complex. Many companies are small, locally owned manufacturers and suppliers that form the backbone of Seattle’s economy. Others are music studios or wholesale distributors still offering bargain prices in a town where the cost of everything has exploded.

Throughout the neighborhood, businesses are operating in century- old spaces. Many of these unassuming buildings were built at the turn of the last century for loading and unloading cargo from railroad tracks and streets.

As a result, many of the buildings were built to the property line along the public right-of-way and have loading docks and doors that open directly onto city-owned right-of-way, with no private driveway, parking lot, or any other protected space for loading and unloading. The lot line development of the buildings in Sodo makes them similar to and different from industrial and commercial buildings in other parts of town.

Trains no longer run to many buildings, where goods used to move directly from box car into building doors. Instead, the same area of railroad tracks, now partially paved over, is used by trucks to load and unload into the buildings.

This arrangement works for local businesses, but only so long as access to their loading docks and doors is maintained. But competition for precious road space is fierce in Sodo, and it is city of Seattle Department of Transportation policy to not allow businesses to protect access to their loading docks and doors in Sodo.

When businesses accept and make deliveries, they are forced to try and keep their doors and loading areas clear without any assistance from SDOT. In fact, SDOT is actively forcing some of these businesses to allow their loading doors to be blocked.

The Sodo Business Improvement Area (BIA) represents businesses and property owners ranging from neighborhood cafés and boutique retailers to construction companies, manufacturers, and large
international corporations, and it convened Sodo business leaders last year to discuss the issue.

There, dozens of small businesses reported these problems. A produce distributor said it shoos vehicles from its loading dock daily to accommodate trucks loading and unloading. A specialty glassmaker said it is regularly threatened with tickets while loading uniquely fragile shipments. Another property owner is threatened with citations for loading and unloading within Airport Way South when campers interfere with access to its loading doors and driveways along Sixth Avenue South.

A business left Sodo because of this policy, unable to maintain fire exits and forced to turn away deliveries because city-approved entrances were blocked by parked cars.

For one business, the fines imposed by the city for privately prohibiting parking in front of its loading dock have piled up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sodo is absolutely ready to be part of the building access solution. In fact, it is so much a neighborhood priority that the Sodo BIA declares the need for a “commonsense overhaul of parking in Sodo” as a key topic for the community this year.

Forced to fend for themselves, businesses struggle with commuter parking and campers, and they struggle against City Hall, fighting off citations and enforcement actions because the city does not regulate the parking in front of Sodo loading docks and doors like other neighborhoods for the benefit of the adjacent

City leadership to solve this problem is needed now, before more Sodo businesses close or move unnecessarily.

Whether the city uses signs and parking enforcement, street use permits, or partial street vacations, the city can have a lasting and positive impact on one of Seattle’s most vital and hard-working neighborhoods if it addresses the building access issues in Sodo now.

Darby DuComb is an attorney and member at Sodo- based law firm Schlemlein, Fick & Scruggs. She previously served as litigator and mediator for the city of Seattle for nearly two decades.