Portland City Council loosens peninsula parking program, lowers fee

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PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday unanimously approved changes to a program designed to discourage the construction of parking lots on the peninsula in favor of more dense developments.

Changes to the program include lowering the per-space fee from $10,000 to $5,000 and allowing developers the option of leasing parking spaces for a period of five years from a local parking garage or lot instead of paying the fee.

“The new version is a little more flexible and will be more successful,” said Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who leads the Transportation Committee.

The original program, known as the “Fee in Lieu of Parking” program, allowed developers to pay the city $10,000 for each parking space that is required by ordinance, but is not built.

In approving the changes, councilors said they had heard from local developers, who argued that the fee was too high to be effective and program lacked flexibility. 

The $5,000 per space fee was recommended to give parity in the ordinance, Donoghue said, since it is similar to the cost of leasing a parking space for five years in a garage.

The council also set a maximum distance those off-site parking spaces could be from the development. Instead of simply saying that distance must be “reasonable,” the council defined that distance as 1,500 feet.

That amendment was offered by Councilor John Anton, who also convinced his peers to require developers to pay the parking fee through bonds early in the development, rather than when occupancy permits are issued. 

Chris O’Neil spoke in support the changes on behalf of the Portland Community Chamber, which he said had received a lot of “flack and static” from the development community about ordinance.

“Giving developers a choice is the real takeaway for Portland,” O’Neil said.

But not everyone supported the changes.

Several residents who abut business zones were worried the changes would increase on-street parking demands in their neighborhoods, especially if a five-year lease on garage spaces runs out and is not renewed. 

“You have to know everyone’s schedule to find and get a parking spot,” Deering Street resident Kari Lord said. “Reducing the cost … is a mistake and will be taken advantage of.”

City Planner William Needelman said there is no incentive for developers to pay $10,000 to the city, when they can build parking spaces for the same amount of money.

But Councilor David Marshall said he hopes the lower fee would allow the program to work as intended and encourage denser developments in business zones that do not have expansive parking lots.

“I fear if we have the fee too high no one will take advantage of it,” Marshall said. “I hope this hits the sweet spot.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net