Saturday, May 18, 2024

As lease on downtown housing development gets tabled, one individual pushes for an alternative

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LEAVENWORTH – The future of downtown’s P2 parking lot remains up in the air after City Council’s last meeting of 2023, when members decided to table a proposed lease of a major housing and parking development until 2024. For Torstein Lindheim, a former long-time resident, it may be his last opportunity to get the town on board with his alternative idea: the Flower Tower. 

To give some background, the P2 parking lot is also known as “Blewett Lot” or “the Pit,” and sits near the Festhalle, between Front Street and Highway 2. P2, P1, and the portion of land that houses Leavenworth’s Finest Espresso (referred to just as “Espresso” in development plans) are included in the 2.08 acre lot the City acquired for just over $2.15 million in 2013, according to county documents.

For the last three years, Lindheim has been trying to convince the City to transform the lots into a parking garage covered in flowers, which he calls the Flower Tower. 

“There have been so many parking studies over the years…and every time they come up, [they find] we need more parking, and that's it. Then a couple of years goes by, and then they start another study and they end up [saying] we need more parking, but nothing's happening,” said Lindheim.

Lindheim’s mockup doesn’t have an exact amount of parking spaces planned out, but he says it could include up to 500 spots.

“One advantage to parking over that hole is that it's in proximity to the Festhalle, which is the Convention Center for this town,” said Elmar Larsen, a Leavenworth resident and friend of Lindheim. 

For Linheim, the parking garage would also double as a tourist attraction, being covered in flowers in the spring and summer months.

“Can you imagine that people come to town, they're going to hop on top here and take pictures, promoting Leavenworth on Instagram or wherever,” said Lindheim.

The garage itself would be covered in murals, in order to still be a photogenic space come wintertime.

“You have to think this is not only a parking place, but it is something that helps the town to grow and the businesses to grow,” said Lindheim.

Lindheim and Mayor Florea have had many discussions about the Flower Tower over the years. While Lindheim sees the need for more parking, Florea sees the need for housing.

“I appreciate that he is passionate, that’s what drives me. I’m passionate about housing. I’m as dogged about that as he is about the Flower Tower. I’ve had some great conversations with him,” said Florea.

According to Florea, there will never be enough parking on the worst days. The parking garage would need to be used year round to be financially justifiable, and “not just a last resort on those busy days,” said Florea. 

“What people may not realize is how expensive it is to build parking structures,” said Florea.

Florea said he was open to a parking structure in other locations, but a Bavarian facade would be more feasible than flowers.

“It’s a big job to do the flowers we already do,” said Florea.

To Florea, the P2 parking lot would be better utilized for housing, because it could provide an affordable living option for the downtown workforce. The location would make for a walkable commute, and is close to public transportation.

“We don’t have a funding stream at this point but we do have land, and it’s in the heart of town,” said Florea.

For over a year, the City has been in discussions with the Housing Authority of Chelan County and the City of Wenatchee (CCWHA) and the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing about turning the plot into a mixed-use development. 

ZBA Architecture was hired to design a five-story building that included parking, affordable housing, and commercial retail space. At the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, Keving King of CCWHA and Stephanie Davis of ZBA presented a design that would include 55 affordable one and two bedroom housing units, 88 parking spaces, and six retail spaces. Every City Council member showed support for the development.

In the agreement, the Housing Authority would lease the property from the City for one dollar annually for the purpose of determining feasibility and if possible, constructing affordable housing. The lease would allow the housing authority to seek out grants and funding for the project, and give them an option to purchase the property down the road. 

However, the city attorney and bond council reviewed the plan after the Nov. 14 meeting, and found that the existing debt on the property prohibits use of bond proceeds for a private business. The commercial aspect was removed to both comply with the bond restrictions and allow for more parking spaces, in order to maintain at least the same amount of spaces that currently exist.

The City Council was hesitant to sign the lease without the commercial component, agreeing to dedicate a separate session to further discuss the next options, and also allowing for new members to be involved in the decision in 2024.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media



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