An effort to reduce the number of parking spaces required for Bismarck businesses, office buildings and apartment buildings needs careful review.
While the Tribune editorial board understands the goal of making sure “... projects are neither under- or over-parked,” we can think of businesses that presently fit both categories. Whether the proposal developed by city staff will resolve the issue remains to be seen.
City staff worked with a group that included engineers, Realtors and developers, along with the mayor, a planning and zoning commissioner and a Bismarck Board of Adjustments member to come up with the proposal.
Presently, retail businesses must provide one parking space per 250 square feet of building, while office buildings are required to provide one parking space per 300 square feet of building. Under the proposal, the parking requirements would decrease 20%.
The proposal also reduces parking requirements by 10% for buildings containing a mix of housing units and business or office space.
The Tribune knows a number of businesses, especially medically related, that have parking lots that are challenging. It’s difficult to find open spaces, and it’s hard to maneuver in the lots. There also are some lots that are never close to full.
Some lots were no doubt created in anticipation of growth in the neighborhood. Other businesses were no doubt working with limited space. So coming up with the right formula for deciding on parking lot sizes can be difficult.
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There has been at least one recent project in which residents protested a perceived lack of parking, and they lost.
One of the Tribune’s concerns is that the downtown could get more squeezed for parking.
Developers want to add 91 apartment units in downtown Bismarck through two projects. Together, the projects will cost an estimated $16 million. A variance is being requested for the larger project to reduce the number of required parking spaces. Part of the argument for reduced spaces is that people living downtown enjoy a different lifestyle that’s less dependent on vehicles.
Sanford Health plans to build a new heart hospital in downtown Bismarck. One of the issues that will have to be resolved will be parking. Houses are being removed near Bismarck High School to provide more parking after the addition to the school.
The Tribune sees the demand for parking growing, not declining. It’s likely the downtown will need more parking ramps, and then it becomes a case of finding locations for ramps.
Finding the right formula for parking is critical for businesses. If customers can’t find a place to park, they likely will leave.
The planning and zoning commission will hear the parking proposal today. If it passes, it will go to the Bismarck City Commission in April for final action. The public’s comments on the proposal will be needed.
Bismarck needs a policy that provides enough parking, but not too much. It shouldn’t be a policy that just makes it easier to build.
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