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Planning Commission skeptical of plan to increase parking downtown

By Daniel Nairn

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, April 16, 2009

At their joint public hearing on April 14, 2009, the Charlottesville Planning Commission reacted to a staff proposal to reinstate minimum parking requirements for all new downtown developments. Most commissioners wanted to explore other means of meeting demands of mobility before assenting to a dramatic increase in downtown parking spots. The Commission unanimously voted to request from City Council another 150 days to study the issue further.



Current PEZ zones from Downtown Parking Study

Parking Exempt Zones (PEZ) were created in the 1970’s as a way to discourage the use of downtown land for surface parking. A

2008 parking study

evaluated the current use of PEZ as part of a comprehensive review of downtown parking. While the zones have not been very effectual, because developers typically opted to supply parking anyway, the study concluded that the PEZ were not causing any problems. Planning staff, with guidance from a stakeholder group, decided nevertheless that PEZ ought to be eliminated.

The proposed change, entitled “Urban Parking Zone,” would require a developer to provide 1 space per residential unit and about 1 space per 500 sq. ft. for restaurants and retail. Parking must be provided within 1000 ft. of the site. Alternatively, the developer could contribute to a fund specifically earmarked for the construction of another parking garage. Conspicuously absent from the proposal was any option for developers funding alternative transportation or Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies. Mayor Norris asked Jim Tolbert why staff had not followed City Council’s recommendation to include these elements, and Tolbert responded that it was simply an “oversight.”

The commissioners agreed that some provision for TDM ought to be allowed as an option for developers. Commissioner Cheri Lewis asked, “Can we do something to encourage alternative means of transportation? This is just throwing us back into a requirement that was the reason why we adopted a parking exempt zone.” Commissioner Michael Farruggio was the only commissioner to defend the push for more parking to relieve parking problems in residential neighborhoods, yet he also wants to consider other ways to resolve this problem that do not require more parking lots.

Many commissioners carried the discussion further by asking why the City has been giving away parking for free.  Councilor David Brown even interjected to thank the Commission for raising the issue of charging for parking. He was the only Councilor to support the idea when

City Council received the parking study in February

. The parking study recommended a $1 an hour parking fee for on-street parking, which would generate between $500,000 and $600,000 a year in revenue.

Commissioner Mike Osteen first raised the possibility of pricing city parking, saying “I think we provide cheap on-street parking at the most convenient locations. I think we need to be more aggressive about the price structure of these places.” Commissioner Lewis added, “This is a short term fix but I don’t think its meeting our long term goals.” She agrees with the idea of installing meters and discouraging the notion that the public is entitled to have a free spot available exactly where they want it.

Because of the importance of the discussion, the Planning Commission decided to request a deferral from Council in order to have more time to study the issue. The 2008 Parking study that is the linchpin of this discussion is

available online for public review

.