Friday, January 22, 2016

Town of Boone to Developers: "No Parking? No Problem!"

Last night, by a vote of 4-1 (with Loretta Clawson, the lone voice of reason), the Boone Town Council approved too large a development on too small a space with too little parking.

The majority on the council have been seized by a New Faith: If the town deliberately allows new developments to ignore required parking regs, then the town will almost magically reduce "auto dependency" and become a "walking and biking" town. That's the long-range vision. The short-term is more and denser rent-by-the-bedroom student housing along major corridors with Council saying simultaneously, "We have a serious parking problem," but approving anyway mega-developments without adequate parking.

Head, spinning.

The University Overlook on the Blowing Rock Road beside the Parthenon is now approved: 24 one-bedroom apartments and approximately 4,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, with a total of 28 parking spaces. The Town's ordinance provides that there should be 1 parking space per bedroom. Generally, retail/commercial uses are required by Town ordinance to provide 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial use (restaurants -- 12 spaces per 1,000 square feet).

So ... a bit of rough math:
UDO requirement = 24 residential parking spaces
Approved by Council = 22 residential parking spaces
UDO requirement = 20 retail/commercial parking spaces
Approved by Council = 6 retail/commercial parking spaces

Time out for my forlorn observation RE 22 parking places for 24 one-bedroom apartments: Perhaps there'll be at least two renters at University Overlook without cars, but how many of those one-bedrooms will be rented by two unrelated (but very friendly) persons, both of whom have cars?

The Boone Planning Commission considered this project on January 11 before it went to the Town Council last night. The following discussion, taken from Planning Commission minutes, is eye-opening:
Vice-Chair Simmons asked how everyone felt about the parking. Commission Chair Woolridge noted that he didn’t have a concern with the parking and asked Vice-Chair Simmons if he had any concerns about the parking. Vice-Chair Simmons noted that his concern was that maybe applicants are putting in token commercial space because Council did not want to see 100% residential in commercial corridors and that the commercial spaces may not have the parking spaces to support them. Vice-Chair noted the answer might be that this proposal is for a walkable development but noted that the commercial area only had 6 spaces.
Chair Woolridge asked if Vice-Chair Simmons wanted to see more parking spaces. Vice-Chair Simmons noted that he just wanted to have the discussion.
Commission Member McCracken asked how the development next to Hob Nob and Winkler Square worked. Commission Member Tate noted that he handles the parking for those two locations and that it seems to work great for the residential tenants but that his concern is that there may not be enough parking for the commercial business which is why they are vacant at Winkler Square.
Commission Member Dineen noted that she thought the parking is problematic; that the existing parking in the area is congested and that this area was not like King Street where on-street parking is provided for the commercial customers and that regardless of whether the development is walkable people will still own cars and will need a place to park them. [Italics have been added]
What did the Planning Commission do after this discussion. It voted unanimously to approve the project.  (Sometimes the boat sinks when no one wants to rock it.)

And this, also from the minutes during the discussion of parking: "Mr. [Bill] Bailey [Planning Director] noted that studies from other Universities indicate that only 60% of students have vehicles and that number keeps decreasing." One wonders what other universities (and "studies") Mr. Bailey was referring to. Certainly not Appalachian State University.

When some members of the Boone Town Council last night expressed the same concerns about parking, Mr. Bill Bailey trotted out that particular factoid that university students somewhere are using autos much less. Inquiring minds would like to see that evidence and understand more clearly what it has to do with this place and these college students and their automobiles.

Although Councilwoman Loretta Clawson was the only member to express dismay at the direction the town is deliberately taking, to her credit new Councilwoman Jen Teague announced that she was not comfortable about the parking requirement, and she turned to the council's lawyer Allison Meade for help with wording: How do we require more of the developer?

Allison Meade
And then I witnessed something I've never seen before -- an elected public body's attorney injecting her own "vote" into the discussion and effectively taking over control of the Council's decision. Oh don't try to tell a developer how many parking spaces he should provide, Lawyer Meade advised. The developer knows far better than we do what is needed. Don't tie the developer's hands, because there are already incentives aplenty for the developer to get it right, and who are we to impose more conditions?

At which Councilwoman Teague dropped her question and voted for the development, along with members Lynne Mason, Charlotte Mizelle, and Jeannine Underdown Collins. Member Clawson stood alone in opposition.

Whatever else is going wrong in the Town of Boone, there seems to be a problem with having an attorney who is also a real estate broker.


Democratus Rex said...

Boone to become a "walking and biking" town?!? A town that is practically militant against walking and biking. Please consider the notable absence of sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the town. We should only hope that Boone could become a "walking and biking" town.

When considering this, just ask: "Would I want my mother to walk/cross the street across this town?" Let's work to make Boone more pedestrian/cyclist accessible. It's a dream anyway.

Anonymous said...

How about this. Deal with the walkability first and then start reducing parking requirements. Seems dumb as hell to do otherwise. I just don't see many people walking. I just see them driving. Maybe thats because they can't walk to the grocery or to some meeting location. Traffic is getting increasingly worse so whatever the Council might want as a vision sure as hell isn't working in reality.

Anonymous said...

Now that Ms. Mason has her restaurant, the more people she can pack into this small town, the better. These are Progressives? I am so despondent that I voted for some of these developer stooges.

lightpost said...

Nonsense. When these people walk, their cars have to be parked somewhere. Where will their guests park? Today is a great day to think about it. I mean, there are so many cyclists and pedestrians on the roads and sidewalks. Absurdity ensues once again.

Anonymous said...

I was on the Boone planning board for four years in the mid-2000s and chair for a couple of those years. Many times the Board, along with the support of the Council, prevented large hotels or other large developments from approval due to inadequate parking, traffic issues, encroachment into residential zoning, etc. Where there is a will there are ways that towns can actually plan and implement restrictions on development that negatively impacts the community. Developers (and the university) always told us that THEY were good citizens and always wanted the best for the town so that they could be given a free hand. That's not the way a real democracy works.

Anonymous said...

Can someone remind me when the last time was the Council refused a mega housing project?

Anonymous said...

Might be relevant, though not these next 2-5 years. The End of Parking, as self-driving cars become common.

Anonymous said...

February 2013....Affordable Housing Ordinance tanked the sale of the old HS property and its student housing which was a small portion of the development of the property that would have brought 300 well paying jobs and much needed sales tax to this area! Oh well it is a new day, new council and we still have a vacant lot!