The city of Blaine is looking at a more permanent solution to parking problems at its most active park.
On Thursday, residents can learn about and weigh in on a proposal to develop property adjacent to Lakeside Commons Park to increase parking from 72 permanent spaces to more than 200. The proposal may help ease growing pains at the park, which includes the city's only public beach.
The original 2007 plan for Lakeside Commons Park and commercial development that was to accompany it included 431 public parking spaces.
The envisioned shops and restaurants were indefinitely shelved with the recession, but city officials went ahead with the park at the request of residents eager for a showcase park area and beach. It opened last year with only 72 parking stalls, a number that proved inadequate, according to Blaine Park and Recreation Director Jim Kappelhoff.
In its inaugural year, the park drew about 30,000 users. Its picnic shelter was booked an average of five days a week with parties of 100 to 150, Kappelhoff said.
To prevent visitor parking from spilling into residential streets, the city established a dirt lot last summer with 94 temporary spaces. But it still proved inadequate. The city also wants to prevent the erosion problems that would result from heavy use of an unpaved parking area.
The Park Board has recommended a 1 1/2-acre paved parking lot on the same site it was to occupy in the commercial plan. That would bring the total up to 205 permanent parking spots, which are likely to remain if and when the commercial development goes forward. The project would put the city in line with consultants' original recommendations for the park alone.
The board also is recommending that the city lease the land. A previous proposal to buy the parcel outright would have cost as much as $350,000, not including about $160,000 for pavement, curbs and gutters.
Kappelhoff noted that creation and maintenance of the city's parks are not funded by property taxes or assessments but by the city's parks fund, which would have been diminished by about two-thirds had the city gone ahead with the purchase. Kappelhoff said he hopes to have details on the terms of the lease with the property's owner, Mainstreet 1000, before Thursday's hearing. The cost should be significantly less than the original estimate, he said.
The parks fund, currently at $800,000, is replenished by park dedication funds paid by developers in the city. Kappelhoff noted that Blaine still has several large developments in the works and that their parks will be funded.
"The Park Board labored over this, but they felt this park is worthy of an improved parking lot," Kappelhoff said. "They had reservations, but they wanted to move forward with it because this is going to be our most active park in the city."
Some nearby residents complained last year about the noise and nuisance that went along with living next to a public beach. While improved parking facilities will keep some beach-goers' cars off residential streets, the plan won't address other issues.
Kappelhoff said last week that Lakeside Commons is a citywide park and that the current homeowners bought their houses with the knowledge that they were buying near what would be a highly active park. But 2011 plans for the park call for a shorter official season and fewer hours for the splash pad and the boathouse. Signs will explicitly bar swimmers beyond the demarcated swim area.
The recommendation also is to discontinue use of a police reserve officer at the beach in the evening, at the suggestion of the Blaine Police Department, because patrol officers can respond swiftly to any emergency, Kappelhoff said. Instead, two park attendants will receive additional training in first aid and emergency response.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409