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Council votes to delay metered parking plan

Friday, September 26, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A plan that would allow businesses in Austin to count metered street parking toward their parking requirements is getting a little more time for refinement, after a somewhat agitated City Council postponed the ordinance for more work.

“It almost seems like this really isn’t ready to be considered,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

That was the consensus. Council members voted unanimously to postpone it until their Oct. 23 meeting. Council Member Bill Spelman was absent.

City code requires that businesses outside of downtown fulfill minimum parking requirements primarily through off-street spaces. Downtown parking requirements were eliminated last year. If approved, the metered parking ordinance would allow businesses to used metered street parking to meet those requirements.

Previously, the plan was unilaterally shut down by the Planning Commission.

“Commissioners liked the idea, but thought it was premature right now,” said Sangeeta Jain, development services process coordinator for the Planning and Development Review Department.

Jain presented the plan along with data on nearby parking situations as evidence that street parking in three areas of town was ample. Jain explained that, even if residents were concerned about a lack of parking, the data showed there was capacity.

That data was questioned by Council Member Laura Morrison.

“Are you saying that, on average, on Saturday night, in the neighborhoods on South Congress, there is plenty of parking open?” asked Morrison.

“That is what the survey says, yes,” said Jain.

“They need to do another survey,” said Morrison. “You can’t even ride up streets off South Congress to get into the neighborhood. It’s dangerous there.”

Morrison also delved into data that showed the most plentiful on-street parking at South Congress Avenue and Johanna Street can be found on Saturday mornings. Jain confirmed that the survey reflected this as well.

“That sort of flies in the face of reality,” said Morrison.

Before the Council meeting, Morrison had reviewed the prior 6-1 vote in favor of the resolution that asked the ordinance be written, with Leffingwell voting in opposition. She said she had expressed concerns at that meeting about how decisions would be made about which businesses could use metered parking toward their requirements.

At the time, Transportation Department director Robert Spillar explained the criteria that would be used and considered. But, as written, the ordinance does not include that criteria.

Though Spillar had admitted the code was written to allow the parking by right, he added, “I would hope we could still use our discretion.”

Morrison also questioned how legal it would be to allocate parking to some businesses and not others.

Assistant City Attorney Lauren Bellomy said she wasn’t aware of any legal problems, though she would look into it. A visibly frustrated Morrison pointed out that she had specifically asked for this question to be answered a year ago, when Council passed the resolution.

Greg Guernsey of the Planning and Development Review Department said that he could not explain why the resolution had been drafted in such a manner, but could get that information at a later date.

Council Member Chris Riley noted that the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances committee had approved the ordinance before sending it on to the full Planning Commission.

“Apparently there was a breakdown,” said Riley. “I did hear something about a lack of answers from staff.”

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