Point out that town approval has been in place for 25 years
By Don Nelson
The owners of Hotel Rio Vista in Winthrop spoke out before the town council last week to address questions council members raised recently about the hotel’s parking lot.
Melissa Peterson, who was accompanied by her husband, Paul, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and asked why they had not been informed about the council’s early discussion. “I feel like if a council member is going to openly complain about a specific business, that business should be notified ahead of time,” she said.
The topic had come up during the council members’ comment portion of the earlier meeting and so was not on the published agenda. It’s not uncommon for council members or audience members to raise issues that generate discussion at Winthrop’s meetings.
At the earlier meeting, council member Rick Northcott had discussed pedestrian safety through downtown Winthrop. He particularly cited the Hotel Rio Vista parking lot, which has stalls extending nearly to the roadway and becomes crowded during heavy tourism periods. Pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists are often competing for the same limited space, he said. Northcott described the parking lot as “a really dangerous spot.”
Town Planner Rocklynn Culp told the council the Rio Vista parking lot was approved in 2003 after a previous hotel on the spot burned down and was replaced. The hotel’s property actually extends out into the highway, she said.
At last week’s meeting, Melissa Peterson pointed out that the Hotel Rio Vista is operating legally with the required number of parking spaces under Winthrop’s permitting system, and suggested that the town itself has some responsibility to come up with solutions. She also said that the hotel is a major contributor to the town’s hotel/motel occupancy tax collections.
“This, or a similar design, has been approved for 25 years,” she said.
“We agree that our parking lot is not set up with foot traffic in mind,” Peterson said. “That being said, our parking lot has served the community members as the most common U-turn location in town, and for locals and visitors who need quick parking while they run to the bakery or other shops.”
Peterson noted that there are several other problematic parking areas in town that compromise bike and pedestrian traffic. “Throughout the city limits there are several areas with narrow shoulders where bicyclists and pedestrians are common,” she said.
Peterson said she has tried to come up with solutions but hasn’t found one yet that would be mutually beneficial. Some ideas she thought about included:
• The town sacrificing parking spaces on the north side of Riverside Avenue between the Duck Brand Hotel & Cantina and the Shafer Museum stairs, and lengthen the existing boardwalk. “However, this would decrease the already limited parking in town,” Peterson said.
• The hotel could acquire additional parking spaces from the town, but then the hotel’s guests would have to park farther away and tote their luggage across the street.
• The speed limit could be decreased to 15 mph in the heart of downtown to make traffic of all kinds safer – but that would not create additional parking.
• Riverside Avenue’s alignment could be shifted to the north to create a walking and biking path between the hotel’s parking lot and the road. Hotel Rio Vista’s property extends to the Highway 20 center line. That would mean loss of parking on the north side of Riverside Avenue, she said.
Absent a quick solution, Peterson said, “the best advice I can offer is that those who choose to walk through our parking lot use caution, and possibly walk between cars instead of out on the street … if we all use caution, hopefully this area can continue to be accident-free.”
Council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon explained that the earlier discussion was not on the formal agenda, and expressed regret that the Petersons had not been able to be part of that discussion. Northcott agreed, but didn’t pull back from his earlier assessment. “It’s still a horrible situation,” he said.
Peterson said she and her husband are open to working with the town on possible improvements, but that no one from town hall had contacted them yet.