New Canaan parking fees stir debate
At the end of last December, the Planning and Zoning Commission decided to pass a fee-in-lieu-of-parking regulation, which would allow future developers in the town's business district to pay a fee in order to reduce the number of required parking spaces.
The fee is set at $15,000 a space, and parking reductions would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Planning and Zoning Commission. The Parking Commission has been opposed to the idea while Town Planner Steve Kleppin says Planning and Zoning only received one letter against and two in support of the regulation before it was passed.
"It is a terrible bargain for the town to allow developers to waive their parking obligations by collecting a small one-time fee," the Parking Commission wrote in a unanimous resolution. "New Canaan needs commercial parking; it does not need one-time token fees. There was no good reason to change the zoning requirements regarding parking and they should be restored."
The Parking Commission also is not happy with the $15,000 price point of the spaces arguing that is around $10,000 lower than the standard.
"The price per space presently in the regulations is recognition that the town has a deficit of parking and therefore it is intended to serve as a means for public-private partnering to facilitate additional parking downtown," Kleppin said. "It is important to note that the state statute permitting this regulation requires that any money collected must go into a separate fund dedicated to the maintenance and/or construction of municipal parking."
Kleppin says fee-in-lieu-of-parking was considered before but was tabled until the town was ready to explore more parking options. With the completion of the Market Demand Study and the Long Range Planning Committee's master plan, the town has begun looking into more options again. The main suggestion which has consistently come up is the construction of tiered parking at the Locust Avenue lot.
"The concept of fee-in-lieu-of parking was first contemplated by the town in the 2003 Plan of Conservation and Development," Kleppin said. "It was a recommended action in the 2007 Downtown New Canaan Strategic Plan and most recently, the Market Demand Study endorsed the recently adopted fee-in-lieu-of parking regulation."
Kleppin also cautioned that the current regulation does not affect businesses in the center of town or the "Magic Circle."
"The current version does not change the parking exemption the Magic Circle properties have been afforded but provides the commission the opportunity to consider alternate development proposals elsewhere that otherwise couldn't be realized under the current regulations without compromising our parking standards," Kleppin said.
Kleppin also said the new regulation will be crucial in realizing three main goals of New Canaan, including enhancement of the business district with beneficial development, thwarting fragmented developments like oversized individual parking lots and excessive curb-cuts and encouraging pedestrian growth with parking in key locations around town.
Additionally, the new regulation makes for stricter special permits according to Kleppin.
"The standard for approval for a special permit under this regulation is stricter than any other special permit in the regulations," Kleppin said. "In addition to the special permit criteria, the applicant must submit a traffic study, which the commission can have reviewed by a second traffic engineer of the commission's choosing and paid for by the applicant."
Kleppin said the previous regulation actually allowed developers to reduce their parking spaces by 25 percent without paying a fee. The new regulation says the developers could only reduce parking by five spaces and would have to pay the fee for any more spaces.
"Coincidentally, the Pine Social is located at 36 Pine St. today because of a special permit that reduced 25 percent of the required spaces on the site," Kleppin said. "We have not received any complaints of parking shortages on that property. If anything, we have heard the opposite."
Kleppin also hopes the construction of tiered parking at Locust Avenue would open up more parking elsewhere. He said permit spaces from Park Street could be moved to Locust, which would open up those spaces for shoppers. However, Keith Richey, chairman of the Parking Commission, does not see this as a guarantee.
"Mr. Kleppin's argument for reducing the parking requirements is the town is going to add a tier to the Locust Avenue lot. But the Locust lot proposal has not been approved and may never be and would not improve the parking situation in the Pine/Grove Street side of town," Richey said. "Any sensible person who cares about parking would want to wait until we actually have additional parking before reducing the parking requirements."
Kleppin said he and the Planning and Zoning Commission hopes this will only improve the value and attraction of New Canaan.
"It is the opinion of the Planning and Zoning Commission that this regulation, in conjunction with many of the other regulations under our purview, will serve to make the Town of New Canaan and even greater place to live," he said.
"Where some people see only blacktop, we see a vibrant and prospering downtown."