Hearing set on shared parking in Freeport

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FREEPORT — The Town Council on Oct. 2 will hold a public hearing on proposed zoning amendments that would lower the number of shared parking spaces required for businesses in the Village Commercial 1 District and eventually eliminate grandfathered parking.

On Aug. 8, the Planning Board voted 5-2 in favor of the proposal.

Town Manager Peter Joseph on Sept. 18 explained that businesses that use shared parking – not limiting their spaces to customers only – are allowed by the town to have fewer parking spaces. 

No changes are proposed for properties that don’t use shared parking. 

The proposal would remove references to “discounts” for shared parking and instead calculate requirements simply by square footage. The requirement for properties in the VC-1 District would decrease from 5.9 to 3 1/2 spaces per 1,000 square feet of their building for retail and restaurants, and to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet for upper and lower spaces, regardless of use. Between 2 and 2 1/2 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet would be required for other allowed uses in VC-1.

Joseph said Freeport’s parking requirements are “artificially” high in comparison to surrounding communities and could create a barrier for economic development.

The proposal would also require all properties in the VC-1 District to comply with the new standards within five years, which would impact those with grandfathered parking.

“You have people who never provided parking or are at a lower rate than the current standards,” Joseph said. “… The basic problem is new businesses and construction subsidize parking for those grandfathered.”

The distribution of who does and doesn’t supply parking varies, according to a memo from Town Planner Donna Larson, from building to building and “no two buildings have the same situation.”  

Joseph said should the amendments be enacted, it’d be ideal if businesses with grandfathered parking could lease other spaces around town to meet the requirements in the next five years, as data taken during the town’s peak busy season have shown that there is a surplus of parking spaces. 

“There is consensus that the supply of parking is adequate and that the current parking requirement is one of the barriers to filling vacant spaces,” Larson said. She added that almost 50 percent of the commercial space in the VC-1 doesn’t contribute to the parking supply.

“If the parking proposal is adopted as proposed, the demand for parking spaces will be low until the grandfathered properties come into compliance,” Larson said. “To help counteract that low demand, the Planning Board is proposing that if a building is vacant for more than 12 months instead of the current 18 months, it has to come into compliance when the vacancy is filled.  “

According to Larson’s memo, the parking requirement has changed many times over the years. It started as a mechanism to increase the supply of parking as the number of outlets stores in town grew.   

To accomplish that, Larson said, the requirement was set very high at six spaces per 1,000 square feet instead of the more common four or five spaces per 1,000 square feet.

“More recently, the parking requirement has been changed to encourage certain types of establishments,” Larson wrote. “For example, to encourage more restaurants, the parking requirement was made the same for restaurants and retail (5.9 spaces). To encourage more commercial activity in upper-level space, the parking requirement was reduced.”

Larson went on to say that the former need for more parking has been replaced with the need to fill vacant commercial space. 

Larson said that the proposed reductions were arrived at only after “carefully calculating the impact.”

“The board sought to keep the supply the same as it is now with … 65 spaces is the estimated surplus,” Larson said. “… By requiring all buildings to come into compliance the balance between the supply and the demand can be maintained.” 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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