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CMSC Webinar

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  • CMSC Webinar Recap: Parking Requirements – A Roundtable Discussion

Webinar Summary

Parking, always a hot downtown topic gets even hotter with the parking requirements debate. Quickly you find that the debate is connected to housing, density, infrastructure, demographics, market position, and so much more.

Watch the recording of this dynamic roundtable discussion on parking requirements from three different perspectives: development, commercial retail, and municipal economic development.

Presentation Highlights

Parking requirements can make or break the performance of a development project. In addition to building and zoning codes, parking requirements directly affect development, determining if a project will even move beyond the pre-development phase.

Parking requirements can hinder the developments of small developments and highly demanded middle housing. When planning for parking, developers often face challenges to accommodate parking requirements. In some cases, there is not sufficient land available to build surface parking and the cost of structured parking is rising – currently, as much as $48,000 per space. Shared parking agreements can increase parking availability. Banks and churches are just two examples of entities that usually have their own parking lots that may be open to a shared-parking agreement during their closed hours. The Towns of Groton and Stonington jointly commissioned a study to identify effective parking strategies to better manage and improve parking conditions for customers, visitors, employees and residents of Downtown Mystic. The shared parking strategy along with several other useful recommendations were made as a result of the study.

View Downtown Mystic Parking Study Final Report

Click here to read more about towns and cities across the country that have abolished parking minimums to promote development, including Bridgeport and Hartford here in Connecticut.

Commercial Retail

Over the last 10 years, there has been an increased interest in downtown parking. Expectations of available parking varies from person to person and the purpose of their shopping trip. Some may prefer to park in a parking garage whereas others may be used to on-street metered parking. You may notice that some will complain about walking a few blocks after parking to a downtown business, however, have no issue walk a ¼ mile to the mall entrance from the parking lot through a sea of other parked cars. Overall, the experience of parking needs to be as pleasant and painless as possible to attract shoppers to downtown commercial retail businesses.

Parking requirements and regulations also directly affect the attraction and retention of downtown businesses. Many businesses would not be able to open or operate without a variance around parking regulations. Businesses see risk when there is no sufficient or convenient parking available for customers but also for staff. Job seekers may choose to search in the suburbs where there is ample parking in a large plaza versus in a downtown where parking may not be ample or well managed.

Many consider bike lanes as an essential feature to Main Street. However, the data is at best inconclusive when it comes to whether bike lanes help or hurt commercial retail businesses. Particularly in Connecticut, replacing available on-street parking with under-utilized bike lanes could be a net loss to downtown businesses.

A thriving downtown has sufficient parking for those who visit, live, and work there. The parking experience can be improved with wayfinding signs, orientation maps, and proper management.

Municipal Economic Development

Municipal economic developers engage in a balancing act when it comes to parking requirements and maintaining or improving the economic vitality of their community. They seek strategies to ensure that there is ample parking for everyone who enjoys the main street or downtown. Economic developers often work with other municipal departments such as planning and zoning to develop those strategies such as changing parking regulations to accommodate more outdoor dining. In fact, most businesses in downtown Fairfield have a variance currently in place.

Volunteers in Fairfield, Connecticut performed an analysis of off-street parking. The time-lapse study included 10 shopping plazas and found that parking was on average utilized at only 36%. These under-utilized parking lots could be converted into several other uses, such greenspaces or food truck parks. In the future, a text-amendment to the current parking requirements will be considered to accommodate the findings of the study.

View Town of Fairfield Off-Street Parking Analysis

Community Engagement

Outdoor dining as a case study to remove parking requirements.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many CT municipalities allowed for increased outdoor dining through an amendment to parking regulations. Before the pandemic, the Town of Fairfield allow for 150 square feet of outdoor dining without additional park required. During the pandemic, the Town increased the square footage allowed which in some cases was placed in available parking spaces. In turn, residents enjoyed the increased outdoor dining opportunities and businesses were able to stay afloat.

Promotion of parking

Parking should be promoted. Listing parking information online and clear signage near available parking help provide a better parking experience. When proposing changes to current parking regulations or the development of a new parking structure, the use of graphics, social media, and webinars are just a few ways to promote future plans. Plan and prepare parking in your community for early adopters and supporters rather than naysayers and laggards, they will follow once they see that Main Street is the place to be!

View the Recording

About Our Presenters

Mark Barnhart, Director of Community and Economic Development, Town of Fairfield

Michael Berne, Principal, MJB Consulting

Alyssa Kent, Senior Development Manager and Design Director, Spinnaker Real Estate Partners

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