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Council to consider wider implementation of Parking Benefit Districts

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 by Michael Kanin

City Council will soon consider a measure that would kick off the implementation of Parking Benefit Districts across the city. According to a presentation by Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar, the item will appear on Council’s December 9 agenda.


If passed, the resolution would open the door for neighborhoods or merchant groups all over the city to ask for metered spaces. A portion of the funds collected by the devices could then be used to fund city-approved improvements.


The move comes on the heels of a pilot benefit district that began in July 2006 in the west campus area. According to Spillar, that program has been successful at managing the parking along San Antonio Street and has generated revenue to help pay for neighborhood improvement projects.


Spillar told members of the Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee Monday that the meters would come with a host of benefits. “As I’m sure you can guess,” he said, “we believe that meters generate turnover on individual parking spaces, and so they’re effective in commercial districts where you need that turnover.”


“Charging for parking and promoting transportation alternatives can help reduce the number of people parking in (a) neighborhood,” he continued. “We believe that that is an important element … (and) the neighborhood, of course, benefits from those that do park and pay the meter.”


He added that, should a neighborhood or group of businesses elect to participate, each initial agreement would run for 10 years with “five-year renewal periods.” In addition, the districts must include a minimum of 100 parking spaces and those spaces need to collect $73,200 a year. All told, 30 percent of the payments collected by the meters — less “fixed costs” — would go to fund improvement projects. The rest would go back into the city’s general parking fund.


In his presentation, Spillar noted that the west campus pilot program has brought in $294,000 thus far. However, he told the committee that 100 percent of the funds collected there had gone to fund improvement projects.


According to Spillar, projects that are paid for with meter revenue “must be pre-selected with cost and construction estimates.” He added that those costs “cannot exceed the estimated revenue accrued to the district in the 10-year agreement.”


Spillar said that the projects that would be funded by the meters “are either languishing in terms of priorities or desirable on the part of the community and may not meet the larger community’s desire to fund.” As an example he cited flower basket landscaping projects or “expand(ed) cleaning capabilities that we otherwise may not be able to offer.”


The presentation detailed additional theoretically eligible projects. These include curb ramps, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, traffic calming, and plazas.


Jolene Kiolbassa, central sector coordinator of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, expressed concern. “When we started looking at programs we realized that there is this alphabet of (them),” she said. “There’s Urban Core Parking Reduction, there’s UNO, and now PBD. And it doesn’t seem like there’s an overall strategy for dealing with parking.”


As a resident of the Heritage Neighborhood, Kiolbassa also specifically addressed the benefit districts. “We realize that, first, it doesn’t really solve the parking problem. Instead, it pushes it to the next neighborhood,” she said.


Spillar noted that the Transportation Department would come back to the Council for approval of the districts if it decides to move forward.

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