Mayor nixes loading zone, storm ensues

A meeting is being held in Langley today to discuss a brouhaha stirred up by the elimination of a commercial truck loading zone that has some Second Street merchants steaming.

For years, there was no parking allowed in the mornings in approximately 10 spaces on the north side of Second Street, just east of the Star Store parking lot. Delivery trucks found the loading zone an easy place to park, off-street and close to businesses. The spaces were opened to general parking at 1 p.m.

Mary Ann Mansfield, Langley chamber board president, criticized the change at Monday evening’s city council meeting.

“We have huge trucks parking on Second Street, blocking it, making Star Store deliveries,” she said. “It’s dicey,” she added, referring to safety issues.

With the official loading zone gone since last week, trucks now have to stop in one lane of Second Street to make their deliveries, forcing other traffic to drive around.

The Star Store, which offers groceries, wine, beer and clothing, gets the most deliveries, but other stores are also affected.

“I’m not the only one,” said co-owner Gene Felton, when asked about the situation Tuesday morning. “A lot of other businesses need a loading zone.”

Maureen Cooke, a nearby businesswoman who isn’t directly affected by the change, nevertheless wrote a critical letter of complaint to the city saying she “felt compelled to stand up for my colleagues,” citing the Star Store, Prima Bistro, Café Langley, Langley Village Bakery and Sweet Mona’s.

Cooke accused Mayor Larry Kwarsick of having “unilaterally removed the truck parking on Second, replacing it with normal car parking all day long thus causing huge problems for the delivery men for all of Second Street.”

At Monday’s meeting, Kwarsick acknowledged it was his decision alone that resulted in the change, although he had discussed it with staff. “I’m going to take responsibility,” he said. “It was not done without a lot of thought … but it’s my issue, not the council’s.”

Kwarsick said he was looking ahead to the upcoming redesign of Second Street, a project which is funded and well on its way to approval by the state Department of Transportation. He said removing the loading zone “opens up the street to parking,” but tried to mollify critics by saying, “It’s not over.” He said he would meet with the Star Store and “potentially others” on Wednesday.

Felton said he never heard from the mayor before the change was made. The police chief stopped by and listened to his concerns and suggested he email them to the mayor. Felton did so, but never heard back, he said. He was surprised when the “loading zone” signs were removed last week and replaced by one allowing four hour parking, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday,

Before, there was no public parking allowed before 1 p.m.

With cars now blocking the former loading zone, Felton said his delivery people are having problems. Trucks that arrive early can just pull into his parking lot, but the situation changes when customers start filling the lot. “After 10:30 or 11 just getting in would be a challenge and it jams up my traffic flow,” he said. “And you can’t parallel park a 40-foot semi. It’s not a safe thing.”

Felton was careful not to be too critical of the city, hoping for changes after today’s meeting. “I understand their point of view but I don’t know where they expect trucks to park,” he said. “You can’t run a pallet jack full of beer and wine down the streets.”

In her letter, Cooke claims that one reason Kwarsick made that change is that his wife, Carol McNeil, is a board member of the South Whidbey Commons, adjacent to the Star Store. The “Commons” is a nonprofit business that offers coffee and books, training young people and adults for the workforce. “They were whining about no parking in five spots in front of their space until 1 p.m.,” Cooke wrote, claiming there’s plenty of other parking available.

Felton said Commons customers frequently use his parking lot, but he doesn’t complain about it.

In response, McNeil wrote her own letter saying the Commons is a nonprofit that benefits the community and pays business license fees and taxes. She called Cooke’s letter “inflammatory,” and stated that “we are well served by working together to create a vibrant, healthy community.”

City Clerk-Treasurer Debbie Mahler said Tuesday the mayor could order the change without council approval because there apparently was never an ordinance to create the loading zone, which had existed for years.

At Monday’s meeting, council members Doug Allderdice, Hal Seligson and Bruce Allen did not comment on the issue. Council members Rene Neff and Jim Sundberg were absent.

Kwarsick doesn’t work at City Hall Tuesdays and did not immediately return phone messages from the Record.

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