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City parking garages now on waiting list for monthly customers

As Charlottesville officials await the results of a new parking study, the city has passed a milestone that raises questions about whether a third parking garage may be necessary.

“For the first time since the Water Street garage was built in 1992, there is a waiting list for monthly parking there,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. The Market Street Parking Garage has been on a waiting list for new monthly customers for many years, he said.

The monthly spaces have filled up rapidly as several companies such as WillowTree and World Strides continue to grow their downtown offices. Developers of nearby projects also have sought long-term contracts to cover their parking requirements.

The fact that there are no spaces readily available is alarming to the sole stakeholder of the Charlottesville Parking Center, a private company that operates both garages through arrangements with the city government.

“There’s a number of companies that are growing in downtown Charlottesville and they are hiring people,” Mark Brown said. “If we don’t have the infrastructure in place to allow these companies to continue to grow, they’ll have to look elsewhere.”

Earlier this year, Brown asked the city to adopt a parking system where the total inventory of public on- and off-street spaces would be managed by one authority.

That might involve parking meters whose revenues go toward paying for new infrastructure and off-site parking lots for downtown employees. The meters also could give people the incentive to take mass transit.

“You’ve got to put every option on the table to deal with the problem,” Brown said.

Brown’s idea is built on an October 2008 study that recommended switching to a metered system. Charlottesville is paying the firm Nelson Nygaard $120,000 to update that study, and results are expected later this year.

The topic of parking has come up at several recent requests for additional density at buildings south of the Downtown Mall.

Developers now either have to provide a minimum number of spaces onsite, work out an arrangement with another property owner to secure spaces within 1,000 feet of their projects or to pay into a fund dedicated for new parking infrastructure.

For instance, at 201 Garrett St., developer Oliver Kuttner has submitted a plan to build 50,000 square feet of office space and 233 housing units, each requiring at least one parking space. The plan showed 142 parking spaces, which means Kuttner would have to find 91 more nearby.

So far, Engel said, no one has taken advantage of the parking infrastructure fund.

Brown said planning for a long-term solution should begin soon.

“Obviously, people that are developing buildings are going to have to look at building spaces in their buildings, but I think the city and CPC need to look at building additional garages,” Brown said.

Engel said the need to build new spaces somewhere is on the city’s radar, but other short-term solutions will help while those plans are developed, approved and ultimately constructed.

“Given the long lead time to develop and build and permit a parking structure, we want to start being thoughtful about considering that,” Engel said.

There currently are no plans in the city’s capital improvement program to build any new structures.

Engel said the discussion won’t begin until after the study is complete.

“It’s very costly to build new structures, so that’s obviously not our first choice,” Engel said. “There are other things that can be done to minimize or mitigate the parking situation and improve it before we go to the step of building a new structure.”

Engel anticipates the study will include a recommendation to switch to metered parking for on-street spaces.

“[In] many cities of our size or larger, you have some type like a metering system,” Engel said. “The metering system is not intended to be a revenue source or a punitive measure but simply help people make better choices about where they’re going to park or how they’re going to get around in general.”

Engel said the waiting list for monthly parking does not affect the number of spaces available to people who want to shop or eat downtown.

“It’s important to note that there’s plenty of hourly parking for visitors,” Engel said. “On weekends and evenings, there is more space than anyone could ever use.”