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Timing of change to parking code prompts scrutiny

(Oct. 11, 2013) An otherwise nominal change to the city’s zoning code on parking requirements caused more of a stir than usual this week, as two members of City Council abstained from the approval after expressing suspicion as to whom the change would affect.

Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas removed themselves from the vote on the zoning amendment, which otherwise was approved five-to-two, although the actual ordinance authorizing the change will be voted on at a later date.

But they abstained only after questioning city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith about how  the code change was raised in the process of planning for the 67th Street Town Center.

That recently built shopping center is a project of Peck Miller, a local Realtor and developer. He also sits on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which recommended the code change for council’s approval.

“The person who developed that facility sits on the zoning board. Why didn’t this come to us sooner?” Pillas asked. “It seems like things get built and then we have to come in and change our codes because somebody’s forgotten something.”

The change seeks to clarify the parking requirement for mixed-use facilities, such as shopping centers. Mixed-use developments in most of the city’s zoning districts are required to have one parking space per 225 square feet. Restaurants are typically required one per every 100 square feet.

But under city code, shopping centers can qualify for mixed-use zoning status, without any affect to their parking requirement, as long as 25 percent or less of their space is taken up by restaurants. The code currently reads that if such establishments comprise more than 25 percent of the facility, then parking shall be provided at the regular rate instead of the one per 225 square feet.

However, the code is ambiguous as to whether the increased parking rate applies only to the square footage that is over 25 percent, or if going over 25 percent requires the developer to provide full restaurant parking for the entire restaurant, including that portion that is under the 25 percent qualifier.

The former interpretation, requiring less parking, has always been the intent of the city, Smith said.

“In discussion with the Planning and Zoning Commission, most, if not all of them, felt that the first 25 percent was supposed to be exempt and not subject to restaurant parking rates,” Smith said.

As such, the code is proposed to be amended to state that the restaurant parking rate will be required for all restaurant area “in excess of” 25 percent of the shopping center.

“It’s really to clarify it as it was intended,” Smith said.

However, Ashley said he was told that the code change was prompted by a conflict between developers over the interpretation.

Smith said that, in the case of 67th Street, “they kind of differed with our interpretation.”

“They maxed out at the 25 percent,” Smith said. “They anticipate they may have additional restaurant tenants. They know they have to provide one-for-100 beyond the 25 percent, but if we were to make them go back and retrofit [the original 25 percent] for more parking, it would be very difficult.”

However, when asked by Ashley, Smith said he was not aware of any developer or builder who had threatened to challenge the city on its more lenient interpretation.

The code change would potentially affect all other mixed-use projects in the resort as well, Smith said.

“At Planning and Zoning [meetings], I bring a lot of stuff up,” Miller said later this week. “Because I’m a developer and I do a lot of things, they’re going to affect what anybody, including me, can do down the road.

“But I think it’s just common sense to take out the ambiguity and help people know what they need to accomplish before they build,” he said. “You don’t go along and retroactively tell a guy that, if you’re going to have a new restaurant, you have to go back and bring all the others up to a stricter code.”

Mayor Rick Meehan also impressed on the council that the change was a common-sense one and not intended to benefit anyone in particular.

“When somebody builds to this code and thinks they’ve established what they’re going to be, but then they grow more, it keeps everyone on the same playing field,” Meehan said.

“If we want to encourage development, we need to provide a little common sense,” said Councilman Dennis Dare.

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