With Leesburg leaders still eyeing long- and short-term fixes for the downtown parking problems, the Planning Commission continued working through proposed changes to parking regulations during its meeting Thursday.
Commissioners rejected one of town staff’s suggestions and backed a few others, as it continued working toward its goal of finalizing their recommendations to the Town Council by August.
Town staff members asked the commission to endorse a recommendation from an outside consultant that would require a landowner who removes any nonresidential parking in the B-1 downtown business district to replace the parking or help cover some of the cost through the town’s “payment in lieu” program. That program allows a landowner to pay $6,500 per space instead of building new parking spaces.
Brian Boucher, the town’s deputy director of planning and zoning, told the commission the town has enforced this requirement, but a consultant suggested town leaders include language stating the practice in the town’s Zoning Ordinance.
“It’s what we’ve always done, but the consultant said to clarify it—so it codifies it,” Boucher said.
The commission rejected the idea in a 2-4-1 vote, with Chairwoman Sharon Babbin, Ad Barnes, David Faliskie, and Gigi Robinson opposed and JoAnn Walker absent.
Most had a problem with the payment in lieu price, which covers about a third of what it costs the town to create more parking, according to Boucher.
“The payment in lieu thing is ridiculous,” Commissioner Doris Kidder said. “That’s what we call being business friendly. It’s the biggest bargain in town.”
She later noted that she doesn’t have a problem with payment in lieu when those funds go toward creating new parking spaces, as opposed to general town maintenance.
But Boucher said that was not the debate before them.
Babbin said she felt it was unfair to make a landlord to replace any parking spaces that were in excess of what was required for the original building. “The logic escapes me,” she said. She later added, “This requirement should apply only to the number of spots that are being removed which were required for the original building.”
The commission voted in favor of several other parking policies that the town staff is recommending. Among them was a suggestion to turn 37 of downtown’s 139 metered on-street spaces into unmetered spaces. These are spaces that take in less than $100 per year and sit near Thomas Balch Library on West Market Street, on Harrison Street near the W&OD Trail, and in the Liberty Street lot.
The commission also backed a suggestion to encourage mass transportation in town, such as promoting the use of bus service; improve signage to point people to public parking; and explore ways to use existing private parking. Boucher said his staff is looking into leasing private lots at churches and at some businesses that have spaces that sit empty for much of the week.
“So we’ll look at these things,” he said. “We’re trying to use some tools that we haven’t used before to give people a better experience driving in.”