In a hotly contested case Wednesday, the Kodiak planning and zoning commission exposed how dire the parking situation has become along Shelikof Street.

Pacific Seafoods, which operates where Shelikof meets the St. Paul Harbor breakwater, had requested to be excused from rules that govern the amount of parking spaces it must have on its property.

The Pacific Seafoods plant has expanded greatly in the last few years, bolstering the island’s economy, and space that otherwise would be used for parking is now used for fish processing that creates jobs.

That’s normally a good thing, but Wednesday’s request would have pushed Pacific Seafoods’ parking into Shelikof Street. Nearby businesses were rightfully concerned and objected. The request was unanimously denied.

Pacific Seafoods has a responsibility to follow the parking rules, but so do all the other businesses along Shelikof. Some are protected under an exception in the parking rules that reduces the amount of parking they must have on their lots. Many are not.

Testifying before the zoning commission, Bill Alwert explained how his truck has been ticketed three times for parking too long in a public space in front of the business he partly owns. That business, Pickled Willy’s, has no room for parking except on the street.

The former business tenants of the Harbor Building, two of whom have moved to new locations downtown, said improved parking was a factor in their relocation.

While businesses have a responsibility to obey the law, that does not remove the responsibility of the city and borough to create laws that do not hinder business unnecessarily.

The city has drafted an excellent improvement program for Shelikof Street that includes additional parking spaces, but the program is beginning at the opposite end of Shelikof, where it meets Pier 2. This priority should be reversed. Kodiak needs improved parking more than it does a better walkway for the three cruise ships that will visit Kodiak next year.

Even with this new priority, funding, planning and construction will take years to come together. In the meantime, we suggest the city act to reform its parking approach along Shelikof Street. Earlier this month, police chief T.C. Kamai suggested changes to improve parking in the downtown mall; similar changes are needed along Shelikof. Short-term parking spaces, possibly as short as 30 minutes, might encourage shoppers to visit Shelikof businesses more often.

If additional parking is needed, we advise the city to look to the unused lot adjacent to Pacific Seafoods. That lot appears from the street to be a perfect place for a city-owned parking lot.

According to tax records, the lot is valued at $400,000, and if the lot’s owner is willing to sell, that price could be recouped from parking permits issued to cannery workers, shoppers or anyone else looking for a place to park on Shelikof.

Shelikof Street is the heart of Kodiak’s fishing port, which this week was named the fifth largest in the country. It’s time to give it the infrastructure it needs to flourish.

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