Can the city make it easier for businesses to provide parking for their patrons?
A proposal before the Planning Commission on Thursday night hopes to do just that by selling “parking credits” to businesses and having a more accurate count of the number of parking spaces available in an area.
City zoning laws require businesses to provide a certain number of parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of space they have. If a business cannot meet its parking requirements on site, it is allowed to contract for off-site parking.
These parking contracts are done through private transactions. Businesses merely provide a copy of the leases to City Hall in order to prove they have met their parking requirements.
“It works, but it’s not the most efficient way of doing it,” reports David DeGrazia, a senior planner in City Hall. “It’s difficult for the city to track. It’s hard to make sure all the leases are current.”
This system is frequently criticized as being “paper parking” rather than real parking. Businesses are not obligated to make these leased spaces available for customer use. They need to meet only the zoning code parking requirements.
Under the new credits program, the city would eliminate the need for private transactions and leasing spaces.
After determining how many parking spaces are available in an area— street parking, parking decks and private lots that are available for public use—the city would then sell parking credits to businesses needing to meet their off-site parking requirements.
For example, if there are 1,000 spaces available in an area and a business needs 150 spaces to meet its code requirements, the city would sell it 150 parking credits, bringing the number of spaces in the pool down to 850.
“This allows us to attack it from the supply side, rather than the individual businesses doing it,” DeGrazia said. “We’d have an exact count of how many real spaces are available.”
When the pool of available parking spaces approaches zero, the city would stop issuing parking credits for that area.
The exact cost of each parking credit has not been determined, but DeGrazia estimates it would be about $400 per space per year. The city would do a count of the parking spaces in an area twice a year.
Although DeGrazia believes this new system would be more efficient since it is based on the real world, he is quick to point out that the code requirements for parking would remain the same.
“It’s an alternative way to provide parking off site, but we’re not changing the parking requirements,” he said.
The number of parking spaces an establishment is required to provide varies depending on the type of business—three and a half spaces per 1,000 square feet for retail and office, nine spaces for restaurants, 15 for nightclubs and 28 per 1,000 square feet of dance floor.
The parking credits program would be implemented gradually. It would likely start in the Boystown area since the city-owned parking deck behind the new library with 333 spaces is now open. Some areas of the city that have severe parking shortages might never come under the parking credits program.
If the Planning Commission approves this proposal, the Transportation Commission would have to weigh in. That would be followed by a joint Planning and Transportation commissions meeting to discuss the issue in September. Finally, since this would require changes to the zoning laws, the City Council would have to approve it, likely in October or November.