Ordinance 1287 & 1289: My Recommendations

Ordinance 1289 (companion to 1287 with the landscaping issues, etc.) deals with downtown parking, as well as height of downtown buildings.

Staff has failed to explain clearly their goals and objectives for either ordinance. 1289 appears to be aimed at giving more latitude to developers in building their own parking and in using the city's existing parking system. I presume this is a tacit admission it is no longer financially or politically possible for the city to build more parking to accommodate and subsidize large scale redevelopment.

The ordinance allows developers to submit alternative parking plans. What is essential is for the ordinance to be framed correctly to insure these plans serve the best interests of the community. The "parking ratios" in city code are there for a reason, and deficits in self-financing for debt service on parking structures have already run in the tens of millions.

1) Vic Loomis has, I believe correctly, raised a concern that as currently worded, the ordinance could lead to lawsuits forcing the city to build more parking if alternative plans do not succeed or developers want to build more than would be allowable in alternative plans. The new ordinance retains the language that: it is "the city's policies to assume primary responsibility for providing consolidated parking facilities in the City Center commercial district," a policy that was intended for a commercial district not a "mixed-use" district, with a large influx of residents.

As citizens, what we want is for the existing parking system to be put to maximum use, since it generates net parking revenue (excluding debt), without being forced to build more parking against our will. I am suggesting a change to section 50-593 (j) from

On-premise site parking. Consistent with the purposes of this district and the city's policies to assume primary responsibility for providing consolidated parking facilities in the City Center commercial district, on-site parking facilities intended as accessory uses to serve one or more uses on the same lot shall be prohibited, except where…

to

On-premise site parking. Consistent with the purposes of this district and the city's policy to optimize use of its consolidated parking facilities in the City Center commercial district, on-premise parking facilities intended as accessory uses to serve one or more uses on the same lot shall be prohibited, except where…

This would indicate a preference to use the city's parking, without implying any commitment to building more parking. If there are other places the "primary responsibility" policy is articulated with the possibility of the city being sued to build more parking, this needs to be changed, as well.

2) The reasons given for allowing on-premise parking make no sense. Number 1 states: "It is demonstrated that the municipal parking facility cannot accommodate a proposed use." Number 3 states: "The applicant has demonstrated that the parking is necessary for the customers of the proposed use."

Number 3 implies that all a developer needs to do is show customers would prefer on-premise parking and they could bypass the city's parking system. What is really needed is to make these two reasons an "and" not an "or," combining into a single clause:

The applicant has demonstrated that the parking is necessary for the customers of the proposed use and that the municipal parking facility cannot accommodate the proposed use.

3) Alternative parking plans need to work in the real world not just on paper.

As an example, based on my extensive observations and experience, I strongly question the parking plan for the proposed gas station redevelopment on Michigan Ave. The 9 off-site parking permits are in city lots slated for sale in the Park District RFQ/P, and even if technically the distance falls within the allowable parameter, there is no safe way to cross Grand River at its intersection with Michigan, plus that parking is in a part of town where no one should be forced to walk late at night. The claim that this is a mixed-use building eligible for a 25% reduction in the combined residential/commercial parking space requirement is based on the assumption that residents will commute during the day, an assumption that is at odds with near campus student residents and with mature adults who choose to live near campus so they do not have to drive to work.

There need to be evidence-based ground rules for evaluating alternative parking plans, especially given the reputation of planning staff for bending over backwards to help favored developers -- inconsistency in granting exceptions can lead to trouble.

In considering 10 or fewer added parking spaces, the ordinance specifies: "available parking spaces must be consistent with the expected parking habits of customers, employees, and tenants of the proposed use." This concept should be applied to alternative parking plans, but evidence-based. Something to this effect needs to be inserted into 50-593 (l) 3:

… The parking plan shall indicate where customers, employees, and tenants of the proposed use will be expected to park; the estimated number of employees and tenants; the anticipated time(s) of peak customer loads; the location and arrangement of all existing or proposed on-premise parking spaces as may be permitted under subsection (j) of this section; evidence of any arrangement(s) made by the applicant to use other off-premise parking spaces; and evidence of any proposed action(s) by the applicant to control or limit the parking demand generated by the proposed use. The parking plan shall be accompanied by evidence of current local uses and trends, in a form to be specified by planning and public safety staff, showing the plan is consistent with the expected parking habits of customers, employees, and tenants of the proposed use.

This would then necessitate adding:

The planning commission shall approve the parking plan if it determines, based on public review of evidence concerning expected parking habits, that the proposed use would not adversely affect surrounding properties and public facilities and that one or more of the following conditions exist:

RELATED AUDIOS and ESSAYS

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