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The sign says: - Businesses taking parking crunch into their own hands

By Stephen Weigand

Seth Landau's yellow sign with red lettering says it all: ``5 minutes or 5 hours, do not park here unless you are doing business with the company whose name is on the sign in front of the space you are occupying or you will be towed immediately! No exceptions.''

Landau owns Island Security and posted the sign after hearing ``We're just going to be five minutes'' too many times. Landau asked people why they parked in his marked spaces and learned that many of them were Mercer Island residents, ``neighbors and good Mercer Island folks.''

After hearing their response, he asked them not to park there, he said, and they stopped being polite.

He erected the sign more out of humor than anger. ``It just got humorous.''

``It's non-verbal communication -- that's what we call it.''

Signs warning people that parking is for customers is nothing new to the Island. The signs have been up at Tabit Square and the Walgreens' parking lot for years. However, with construction of two major Town Center projects replacing properties that had plenty of surface parking, not to mention the dozens of construction workers needing to park somewhere, more businesses seem to be putting up their own signs.

``You see them popping up everywhere, but they're not as bold,'' Landau said.

Restaurants I Love Pho and Roberto's, which are in the same building as Island Security, posted a sign of their own.

With employees and customers from other businesses and construction workers taking up spots on either side of the short stretch of S.E. 27th Street, parking is at a premium, said Finder's employee Tami Szerlip. Many of the gift store's customers have limited mobility and will go somewhere else if they can't park in front of the store, Szerlip said.

``We have a parking crunch,'' she said.

Travel Professionals, which is in the same building as Island Security, objects to Landau's sign, but acknowledges that parking is a problem.

``It's tough. We have six employees and five spaces,'' said employee Ray Meisgeier. Meisgeier said he thinks parking wouldn't be a major problem if they can figure out how to allocate the spaces.

The north-end QFC took a different tact to solve its parking problem. A few weeks ago, there were four orange and white barrels with a chain, a lock and a sign saying it would cost $50 to remove one of the barrels. It was reported recently that the QFC was warned by a state licensing investigator not to use the barrels. A court ruled earlier this year that it is illegal for businesses to clamp or lock barrels to cars on private property.

Before the warning was issued, QFC manager Colin Murphy said the appearance of the barrels solved its parking problems. He said the store never used the barrels.

Murphy said the barrels were a public service, explaining that it would cost $350 to tow a car. ``It's a visual aid to know what the cost was.''

Murphy would not comment on the warning from the Department of Licensing, but the barrels have since been removed.

According to Murphy, the parking problem was primarily caused by workers from the Island Market Square project under construction across the street. He spoke with the project's superintendent of the construction crew. Murphy said he had a dilemma since the construction workers spend their money at the store. ``... We wanted to be friendly to everyone.''

Island Market Square is a five-story mixed-use project going up on a 2.61-acre property that was a 1960s-era strip mall with lots of surface parking. When completed by the end of the year, it will have 75,000 square-feet of commercial space, 210 apartments and parking for 505 vehicles underground.

Chris Swenson, project executive for Swinerton Builders, which are working on Island Market Square, said the City of Mercer Island advised the company about parking. Swinerton arranged parking for its 150 to 200 people a day that work on the project with other private properties.

``It's a lot of people, individuals coming in and working for a short duration or are a subcontractor with a subcontractor,'' Swenson said. ``Trying to control all those people is a difficult thing.''

As the construction progresses, parts of the site are opened for limited parking and subcontractors are informed that they have to follow the parking laws and not to park in private lots. The company is trying to be good neighbors, Swenson said, but it can't control what workers do off the construction site.

``Unfortunately, we've had problems with individuals who don't follow the rules,'' said Swenson.

``If people followed the rules, there would be ample parking without impacting the QFC,'' he continued.

There was a problem with contractor parking at the other large project under construction, The Mercer, until the city told project managers at both The Mercer and Island Market Square to find parking appropriate parking either on or off the sites for their workers, according to City traffic coordinator Nancy Fairchild.

``They heard that message loud and clear,'' she said.

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