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City moves to make meters count for businesses

Monday, December 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

At their last meeting, City Council members endorsed a change that could allow metered parking spaces to be counted toward off-street parking requirements for businesses outside of downtown. However, it will be up to the new Council to decide whether the idea becomes a reality.

In a unique voting bloc, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voted against the amendment. The resulting 4-3 vote was only enough to pass the amendment on first reading.

Planning Commissioners offered much less support for the change when it was before them in August. Saying that the staff did not think the change — and its potential impact to the city — through, not a single commission member voted in favor of the amendment.

In September, the amendment was before Council, but postponed in order to allow city staff more time to work on the proposal.

This time, Morrison once again questioned a parking study that found that street parking around South Congress was underutilized. The last time Council considered the amendment, she asked staff to perform that survey again. They did, with the same results.

Lee Austin, a traffic engineer with the city’s Transportation Department, performed the study. She said the survey was not in Central South Austin — but on Johanna Street near the Magnolia Cafe. She explained that the results of the survey were the same, even though they performed the study during a busy Austin City Limits festival weekend.

“If it was done farther north, it probably would have reached closer to 100 percent utilization, but that particular area doesn’t get really heavily used,” said Austin.

Austin said that residents “always had the option of residential permit parking” if they saw parking encroaching into the neighborhoods. Morrison noted that it was not that easy, and pointed out that neighbors in that particular area had been trying to get RPPs for about six years.

Zilker resident David King said the resolution should have been “weeded out” by another committee.

“I know the purpose of it, and I think there is a good purpose behind it, but I just think that it’s just too soon to do something like this in the city of Austin. … Maybe try it out in one area. It needs to be scoped way down,” said King. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just too soon to do this.”

King expressed concern that multiple businesses could “claim” the same meter to meet their parking requirements, and suggested that business owners and residents concerned about parking in their neighborhoods might not be in favor of the ordinance as currently written.

Leffingwell said he agreed with King and thought that the amendment will cause a shortage in parking.

“We already have programs in place to provide reductions in parking requirements, where this is appropriate,” said Leffingwell.

Council Member Chris Riley pointed out that the recent creation of parking management districts could be used in conjunction with this amendment to use parking meter revenue to “support all kinds of improvements — pedestrian improvements in particular — that could benefit the neighborhood.”

Riley said the amendment could help neighborhoods “deal with the serious problem of parking spillover and turn it into a positive thing for the neighborhood.”

In October, the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Association voted to support the code amendment, on the basis that it would help ease some of the challenges the area currently faces in adaptive reuse of buildings, which can lack the parking required by the city.


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