Busy MLK weekend in Three Rivers reveals parking conundrum

August-like crowds converge on Three Rivers in January

If you ventured into town on the Sunday afternoon of the MLK weekend (January 17), you might have mistaken the crowds and traffic for more like August not January. There’s a parking problem and traffic congestion is building nearly every weekend of every month. Busy MLK weekend

It’s especially acute on a Saturday or a Sunday on a three-day weekend like this past week with a fee-free day on Monday, January 18, commemorating the actual Martin Luther King Day 2021. The nearly non-stop of long lines entering the Ash Mountain entrance station begins to back up shortly before 10 a.m. It can be backed up for nearly three miles sometimes all the way back to the Three Rivers Memorial Building. Busy MLK weekend

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are currently considering alternatives to alleviate some of the congestion and engine idling but it will not be an easy fix. After 1:30 or 2 p.m., the lines lessen and the crowds spread out and do what they came to do at the nearby national parks.

By late afternoon, the majority of those vehicles that entered at Ash Mountain turn around and head back down the Generals Highway toward Three Rivers. This is a bonanza for some small businesses but it a dangerous parking situation for dozens of motorists looking for a place to park and exit a busy state highway that Caltrans never saw the wisdom of slowing down through traffic.

Three Rivers Community Plan Update 2018 Busy MLK weekend

The most acute part of the problem is the Three Rivers commercial zone from The Kaweah Commonwealth office down canyon to the Sierra Subs new location at the North Fork Bridge. On a busy Sunday, like this past one, these business properties during a pandemic are nowhere near utilized to their full potential and it was still off the charts busy. On a summer’s day in 2017, Dave Bryant, special projects manager for Tulare County now retired, and myself (John Elliott  — District 1 planning commissioner) walked this stretch of highway trying to realize a fully developed business zone. Busy MLK weekend

The discussion that day was mostly about how to standardize the zoning but the county preferred to leave it “mixed use” so as not to limit any appropriate commercial or restrict residential uses. Bryant said the county preferred to leave the zoning intact and allow for variances when a new use was needed like when Matt McWilliams applied for a variance for his Three Rivers Brewing Company. When the Three Rivers Community Plan Update was Amended to the Tulare County General Plan in 2018, there were recommendations to keep mixed zoning intact and any town center ideas would be encouraged across (south) the Highway 198 from the Village Center where a luxury hotel was suggested to no avail in 2019.

So the Three Rivers commercial zone (The Kaweah Commonwealth to Sierra Subs) was left with mixed uses, some residents living in commercial buildings, some units converted to vacation rentals, others spaces subdivided into smaller commercial uses — all leading to congestion and parking problems. What better time to consider the future of Three Rivers than during a pandemic when no one knows for certain what lies ahead. Busy MLK weekend

As you watch this 3R News video of Sunday, January 17, 2021, lets start a conversation with our newly-elected District 1 Supervisor Larry Micari. Keep in mind, with upwards of 200 vacation rentals, a new hotel in the works, and the nearby national parks at the peak of their popularity, something needs to be done.  Busy MLK weekend

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Ethan Paggi: drone and video editing

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