City Hall Hustle
4:58 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

City Hall Hustle: What’s Up With Downtown Parking?

In a few days, downtown Austin will be overrun with crowds for South by Southwest – so why is the city practically doing away with downtown parking requirements?

“Many cities are reducing or eliminating their parking requirements as a means of reducing congestion,” argued Chris Riley, the Austin City Council’s resident transportation wonk. Coincidentally, he's the prime proponent of a measure deep-sixing most parking requirements downtown.

If the change sounds surprising, consider this: many parking exemptions exist downtown already – like those for historic buildings. Part of that is because of the compact downtown grid first laid out in 1839 – Austin’s original mayor Edwin Waller wasn’t exactly thinking about parking garages back then.

The resolution the council considered last week does a couple things. An amendment from Riley reduced the number of businesses that would have to offer off-street parking. Right now, any business over 6,000 square feet has to offer parking. Riley’s resolution doubled that to 12,000. He said it’s designed to prevent one thing:  “Cool old downtown buildings, parts of which sit vacant, because the owners are unable to provide the additional parking that would be required if they introduced any use that was larger than 6,000 square feet.”

But buildings over that size would still be subject to handicapped parking requirements; another unanimously accepted agreement would give businesses some latitude in meeting those requirements, including potentially working with the city to flip on-street spaces into handicapped-compliant spots.

But it wasn’t just one big love in: An amendment from Mayor Lee Leffingwell would have removed the current cap on downtown parking requirements. But Riley wasn’t having it: “There may be situations in which someone just wants to go hog wild and wants to build crazy amounts of parking downtown,” he said. “We would have no control over that – we would have no way whatsoever of managing that.”

The parking proposal passed on first reading – although not before deflating the mayor’s patience: Leffingwell voted against the measure, he said to some laughs, “because my amendment didn’t pass.”

Rounding Out the Agenda

In Fact Daily’s Mike Kanin helps sort through the rest of this Thursday’s agenda: potential potholes regarding final passage of the parking changes, the zoning overhaul of the East Riverside corridor, the National Instrumentals incentives deal, and the (lobbyist-free) rewrite of the city’s land development code.

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