Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Parking decks coming to your neighborhood?

Central Piedmont Community College deck at Seventh and Charlottetowne has angered the Elizabeth neighborhood

Although the 9-1 vote (Warren Cooksey voted no) creating the Wilmore Historic District was the biggest headline out of the City Council's Monday night meeting, the most interesting discussion took place around a somewhat obscure proposal from the city planning staff.

Several council members appeared to think the provision would allow parking decks in residential areas where they are now barred. (For the record, this is not what it would do, as you'll see if you read on.)

But you can't blame people for some confusion. The measure was on the agenda as a public hearing on Petition No. 2010-033, described this way in the lovable language of the planners: "... a text amendment to add new regulations making parking decks constructed as an accessory use to an institutional use exempt from the floor area ratio (FAR) standards, when located in the single family and multi-family zoning districts, provided certain requirements are met ..."

The exemption from FAR standards (don't even ask, I have been writing about planning for 15 years and I'm still not totally clear how FAR works) is intended to offer an incentive to institutions such as churches, colleges and hospitals to build parking decks instead of surface parking lots – in areas where the decks are already allowed but because of the FAR standards they're more expensive to build. And with the appearance requirements, such as plantings, the decks would look a wee bit better, too.

"I have a problem with parking decks in residential districts," at-large council member Susan Burgess said.

Planner Tom Drake, who was at the microphone: "This is not a precedent here."

Burgess (incredulous tone): "In R-3 and R-4, surface parking and parking decks are permitted?"

Drake: "Yes."

Burgess: "How did that happen?"

Drake: "They're accessory uses."

Burgess: "Has that always been the case?"

Drake: Yes, in my 20 years here (I paraphrased his lengthier reply. Meanwhile, Planning Director Debra Campbell and planner Sandy Montgomery, sitting in the audience, nod vigorously.)

Of course, if you've gone past Carolinas Medical Center or numerous large churches or Queens University (fixed from "College") in the past 10 years you'll see plenty of large parking lots and decks built in residential areas. Heck, CMC owns huge chunks of the Dilworth neighborhood and it isn't likely they're going to get deeply into the real estate business, but rather they're going to build more medical facilities with vast parking facilities.

Parking is a huge dilemma for Charlotte and most other cities. No one likes a parking lot next door, but get us into our cars and we LOVE parking places. (See my recent column on the topic.) What this provision would do, if it works as intended, would encourage those institutions to build vertically instead of spreading asphalt across three or four times the land area a deck would cover. Sounds like a good idea. Assuming everyone can figure out what it means ...


jmw said...

Floor Area Ratio standards would have no impact on the cost of a parking structure.

FAR is the mechanism by which the city controls density on a site within each zoning district.

Typically, elevated floors of the parking structure count against the total area of development allowed on the site.

The zoning ordinance addresses this situation by allowing the FAR of any given site to be increased by 50% if a parking structure is provided.

It seems this language revision would allow institutional uses allowed within residiential districts to be developed more compactly than surface parking.

Danimal said...

Sounds like a good idea to me. as Charlotte gets bigger and more people and their cars come, they will need to be accommodate by things like these. In a bigger city, if you can't build out, you need to build up. Various neighborhoods may complain (heck dilworth and Elizabeth people complain about everything anyway), but they are just a msmall part of the community as a whole. dilworth and Elizabeth have also benefitted greatly from being adjacent to a college and a hospital. With those benefits come some inconveniences, and if a few elevated parking decks are as bad as it gets, there are much worse probelms to worry about.

Anonymous said...

I'm now reminded of the hissy fit everyone had about the new Lowe's on South Blvd. Neighbors were absolutely convinced that if the parking deck that came with it were constructed where people could see it, their property values would become zero and every aspect of their lives would be destroyed.

I fail to see how this parking deck at 7th & Charlottowne would destroy the way of life of residents of the neighborhood. Yeah, it would be nice if everyone rode the bus to CPCC, but some will simply want to drive there. Would these NIMBYs prefer the students parked in front of their houses? I doubt it.