Parking regulations for commercial development in the Haines townsite could soon be relaxed to allow adjacent, on-street parking to count toward parking space requirements.
Businesses currently are required to provide a certain amount of off-street parking based on number of employees and their building’s square footage.
A proposed ordinance, introduced at the Haines Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday, would amend code to allow new businesses to count on-street, short-term parking spaces toward their parking requirements. The businesses would have to make their case to the commission to be granted the exception to code.
Commission chair Rob Goldberg said small lots downtown and in Fort Seward make it difficult for developers to meet parking requirements, and the code change might help remedy the problem.
Deana Stout, for example, wrestled to find space for parking when attempting to build a cafe in Fort Seward several years ago. Stout would have had to tear up her garden and lawn to provide the necessary parking and ultimately abandoned the project, Goldberg said.
In the early 1990s when John Schnabel added on to the Gateway Building, he had to use a strip of property he had been trying to sell near the Pioneer Bar in order to meet requirements. The parking lot behind the building was deemed too small to accommodate the addition, but Debra Schnabel, who manages the building, said she has never seen the lot full.
Commissioner Robert Venables said businesses applying to use on-street parking toward their requirements would face a lower threshold of proof than if they were applying for a variance, which also allows developers to circumvent code restrictions.
The variance process is rigorous and expensive, and usually pertains to conflicts with code that property owners did not themselves create, Venables said.
Venables used the example of a convalescent home as a development that might qualify to use on-street parking toward its quota. “It may make sense with a convalescent home that has a lot of space dedicated to services, but the occupants are obviously not driving,” Venables said.
The commission rejected in April a push by James Studley to revise code to automatically allow adjacent, on-street parking to count toward the requirements. Studley, who is heading up the Soboleff-McRae Veterans Village project, said parking requirements are too restrictive.
During the April 18 meeting, commissioner Donnie Turner said he believes parking requirements are fine as is. Venables said Studley could request a variance for the Veterans Village project, but that the commission shouldn’t consider changing the code just for Studley.
Goldberg concluded the commission had no intention of changing the code to benefit the Veterans Village project.
At the May 9 meeting, however, the issue came back before the commission with several revisions; most significantly, developers would not be automatically allowed to count on-street parking, but would have to plead their case to the commission.
The commission voted 5-1, with Turner opposed, to forward the code change for assembly approval. Turner reiterated he thought there is nothing wrong with the current requirements, adding the code amendment would only open a can of worms.
At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Mayor Stephanie Scott said the commission should just institute an across-the-board cut in parking requirements if they are inhibiting development. “(The code amendment) allows the planning commission to say, ‘You can count adjacent, on-street parking toward your quota.’ And my thought would be, if that’s okay, then just change the quota and level the playing field, because I’m afraid that it’s going to politicize who gets to have what parking spaces,” Scott said.
In an interview Wednesday, assembly member Schnabel also expressed skepticism about the ordinance, calling it “illogical.” Schnabel said she would be more supportive of a code amendment allowing the planning commission to reduce parking requirements for properties based on how that property is being used, instead of trying to allocate on-street parking spots to meet code.
In an interview Tuesday, Studley said the Veterans Village will provide 43 spots, as required by code. Though he supports the ordinance, he still believes parking requirements are “overkill.”
The assembly voted 5-1 Tuesday to introduce the ordinance and move it to a first public hearing on June 11. Schnabel was opposed.