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New parking regulations

Hair Balls last week had a good discussion of a proposal by the city to revamp its 1989 Off Street Parking ordinance.

Currently, bars — which are defined as having alcohol make up more than 75 percent of their sales — are required to provide ten off-street parking spaces per every 1,000 square feet of usable floor space. Restaurants are required to provide eight off-street parking spaces per every 1,000 square feet. Drive-thru restaurants, takeout joints and bakeries are also defined as restaurants under the current ordinance, meaning that they are tasked with the burden of providing as much parking as more densely occupied space.

The proposed ordinance would increase the number of parking spaces required for bars to 14 spaces per 1,000 square feet, and would also redefine what a “bar” is. Namely, the ordinance would follow TABC guidelines, which state that a business with more than 50 percent of alcohol sales is considered a bar.

This could mean that far more establishments would be considered bars under the new rules, and thereby required to provide much more parking. However, the ordinance would only apply to new establishments or existing bars that are adding onto or expanding their space.

On the other hand, restaurants would be reclassified into three categories:

Restaurant: Would be required to provide ten parking spaces per 1,000 square feet
Dessert Shop/Bakery: Would be required to provide six parking spaces per 1,000 square feet
Take-Out/Drive-Thru: Would be required to provide four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet

These changes wouldn’t apply to structures within downtown’s Central Business District, nor would it apply to existing restaurants, whose parking would be grandfathered into the new ordinance. They would, however, make it easier for small businesses like bakeries to find spaces to set up shop, spaces that couldn’t have been used under the old ordinance due to a lack of off-street parking.

Another incentive to business owners is the proposed reduction of required parking spaces in historic districts or for businesses located in designated/protected landmark buildings. The new ordinance would allow for a 25 percent reduction in the amount of required off-street parking, meaning that a restaurant would only need to provide seven to eight parking spaces instead of ten. A bar’s required parking in these historic districts would be reduced to ten or 11.

You can see the proposal here. It’s still a long way from being ready for a Council vote, and there should be more opportunities to provide feedback. I have to say that I share this concern:

Scott Repass, owner of Poison Girl, Antidote and Black Hole Coffee House, was also in attendance at the meeting, although not as pleased with the proposed changes.

“I guess my big problem with the changes is that they seem heavily skewed towards encouraging new construction over restoring existing spaces,” he said. Repass, like many small-business owners, was concerned that the proposed changes would favor chains and big-name restaurants and bars over the little guys.

And although the changes would make it easier on bakeries or drive-thrus, they would also make it tougher for new restaurants to open — especially small restaurants that would prefer to open, like Zelko Bistro and Ziggy’s, with the intent of being a neighborhood spot to which people would predominantly walk rather than drive. Increasing the difficulty factor would be a requirement of a minimum five-year lease for restaurants or bars which need to lease additional land for parking.

“It also seems like raising the parking requirements for bars, restaurants and hair salons while decreasing the requirement for regional shopping centers and drive-thru restaurants is pushing development in the wrong direction if we want our city to be more dense and walkable,” said Repass.

I think you have to allow for some flexibility in denser areas. Downtown isn’t the only place that people walk, and parking requirements can add a significant amount to the cost of a new business, as noted in that KUHF link above. Yes, that may cause parking to spill over into residential streets, which may be resented by the locals, but one potential solution for that is to install parking meters. Parking is a valuable commodity and should be seen as such.

Another option might be to allow bike parking spaces to substitute for vehicle spaces. Bike Houston notes that bike parking spaces are being required for the first time under this new ordinance, but there’s room to make those requirements better and more flexible. For a discussion about the proposed changes from when they were first publicly discussed last year, see here and here.

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  1. Joshua bullard says:

    This is a clear example of un needed “expansion of local goverment”,iam against this and would lobby against it,we are not at a point where we need to expand local goverments reach in to the bizzness community.

    joshua ben bullard

  2. Gary Stevens says:

    If there is more demand for parking, use parking meters or at least raise the basic cost of parking. If cars then go to free spaces, raise the cost of parking on public spaces. Balance the desire for more parking by charging more, not demanding more parking spaces.

  3. Keith H says:

    Is Houston just trying to be a big suburb or what? At some point, Houston needs to realize that it’s growing into an actual city. Transit and walking actually do exist beyond the CBD (transit and parking… which is the chicken; which, the egg). Do what other cities do and use parking meters (since when has a parking space been guaranteed as a Constitutional right?).

    What idiot decided that we needed the most parking for bars? The real standard should be 1 parking space for each bar patron who departs after midnight with a blood-alcohol level of .80. The new parking ordinance looks like entrapment, to me. We should not be encouraging DWI, and this ordinance does exactly that.

    Did the same boneheads who wrote the historic preservation guidelines write these recommendations?

  4. […] couple of weeks ago I noted that the city is undergoing a review of its 1989 Off Street Parking ordinance. The idea is to recognize some changes in the real estate […]