Freeport puts the brakes on parking ordinance

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FREEPORT — To allow more time to write a new ordinance that would include new recommendations, councilors delayed action Tuesday on a zoning change that would alter parking requirements in the Village District.

The decision followed a two-hour discussion on the topic and a vote two weeks ago to also delay action after business owners threatened to sue over an amendment that would have eventually eliminated grandfathered parking. 

Councilors on Oct. 16 opted not to include the amendment eliminating grandfathered parking in their new recommendation Tuesday. Instead, they favored a change that would bring most properties in the district into compliance. 

After the new amendment is drafted by town staff, it will come back before councilors at their next business meeting Dec. 5. The ordinance will go into effect three months after it is adopted.

As town zoning is now written, businesses that use shared parking – spaces open to the public and not restricted to customers or employees – are allowed by the town to have fewer parking spaces based on a percentage discount.

The proposed change would have removed references to “discounts” for shared parking and instead calculate requirements by square footage.

Councilors’ recommendation Tuesday was to reduce the requirement for properties in the VC-1 district from 5.9 to three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of their building for retail and restaurants, and to two spaces per 1,000 feet for upper and lower spaces. Other allowed uses in VC-1 would be required to have 2 1/2 spaces per 1,000 square feet.

The proposed amendment that was supported by the Planning Board via a 5-2 vote in August recommended reducing the requirement from 5.9 to 3.5 spaces per 1,000 feet.

“It is new information tonight that if we were to drop the requirement to three spaces for retail or restaurant for 1,000 square feet, that most properties will come into compliance,” Chair Sarah Tracy said. “For me, that’s material and compelling.”

The recommendation also reduces the amount of time a property can sit vacant without coming into compliance from 18 months to 12 months.

Several residents spoke on the issue during a public hearing at the meeting, including Planning Board member Wendy Caisse.

Caisse said she would recommend councilors dropping the parking requirement from 5.9 spaces per 1,000 square feet to 3 spaces, and said if the ordinance was kept the same way it is now, the town would “hit a wall.”

She also said grandfathering is a “very tough thing to get rid of,” but spoke to the inequity of the situation.

“I think that we can be a little smarter,” she said. “They’ve enjoyed 42 to 36 years and sometimes less of paying no fees in some cases … and the burden for the enjoyment of town has been on the backs of their neighbors, and it’s not equitable.”

Resident Edgar Leighton, who said he owns property that is grandfathered, said in response to the inequity that “life is not fair.”

“Everybody who either owns property or leases property in VC-1 knew what the rules were,” Leighton said. “… I realize that this is a tough decision, but I don’t think that you should eliminate grandfathering.”

Councilors Scott Gleeson, Leland Arris and Douglas Reighley also spoke against eliminating grandfathering.

Councilors also floated the option of eliminating parking requirements altogether, but agreed it would need to be discussed after the new ordinance was put in place.

At-Large Councilor Melanie Sachs noted the task force formed to work on the issue came to essentially the same conclusion as the recent Planning Board proposal – that the cost of shared parking is “prohibitive,” and that “the supply is adequate but it’s not balanced.”

“Over a six-year period we’re coming to the same exact conclusion,” she said. “With lots of goodwill and discussion and support by data that this is the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Freeport councilors delayed action Tuesday night on a zoning change to parking requirements for some property owners in favor of re-writing the amendment. The issue will come back before the council Dec. 5.

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