Council OKs parking fee hike

Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 21, 1998

DOWNTOWN: Council OKs parking fee hike

New commercial properties without enough stalls subject to fees

Commercial developers will now be charged $30,000 for every required parking space they do not provide on new properties in downtown Palo Alto.

The City Council approved the increase from its previous level of $18,291 in a 7-0 vote at last week's council meeting. Two council members, Micki Schneider and Sandy Eakins, were absent.

The in-lieu parking fee, which was introduced in 1994, affects the area within the University Avenue Parking Assessment District, roughly bordered by Alma Street, Middlefield Road and Lytton and Forest avenues. Developers building nonresidential properties within this area are required to provide four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of land.

Developers who do not provide the minimum number of parking stalls because of land constraints can qualify for an exemption but must pay the in-lieu fee as compensation for the shortfall in spaces. The fees are used by the city to help offset the costs of public parking structures.

Two new multilevel parking garages have been proposed for the corner of Bryant Street and Lytton Avenue and between Alma and High streets near Blockbuster Video.

The combined cost of the new structures is estimated to be $20 million, funded partially by the in-lieu fees. The other portion is expected to be paid from a new annual assessment on downtown property owners, which they still must approve. If they do, construction on the new structures could begin by spring 2000, with a possible completion date of 2002, said senior public works engineer Karen Bengard.

The two multilevel structures would provide an extra 909 public parking spaces in downtown Palo Alto--699 in the Bryant Street garage, and 210 on Alma. The new garages also would reduce pressure on residential streets on either side of University Avenue, which are now filled daily with downtown employee and visitor parking.

Properties of less than 10,000 square feet qualify for the in-lieu parking fee, as do larger lots that are deemed to have an unusual shape or other physical constraints. Properties may also qualify for the fee if the construction of parking spaces would necessitate the alteration or demolition of a historic structure or if they are situated within areas of downtown where curb cuts are not permitted.

In reality, very few projects meet any of these fairly rigorous requirements, said city transportation engineer Carl Stoffel. The in-lieu fee has only been paid on six projects within the last two years. The most recent case was in August, when office developers on a site at 411 High St. paid the fee instead of providing four parking spaces.

Owners failing to provide sufficient parking on sites that do not meet the in-lieu fee requirements pay an annual assessment. The assessment is 34 cents per each square foot of land for which the parking requirements are not met. The fees are used to repay the costs of earlier downtown parking projects. Developers and owners providing the required four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet do not face any charges.

The original in-lieu fee of $17,800 was based on the per-stall cost of the parking structure between University and Hamilton avenues and Cowper and Webster streets, built in the early 1990s. Until this year, the figure has been increased annually in step with inflation. Now, however, city officials say $30,000 is a more realistic sum.

The council so far has approved work for half of the design process for the proposed parking garages. The next step is for the draft environmental impact report to be approved by the Planning Commission, the Architectural Review Board and the City Council, Bengard said.

Only then can the city ask downtown property owners if they would be willing to pay for the structures with new annual assessments, calculated using a new formula. If they reject the proposals, the new parking garages will probably not be built, Bengard said.

It is a difficult decision for business owners to make, said public works assistant engineer Mike Nafziger, but he believes they will realize that extra downtown parking is essential. "It's something they have to weigh carefully. It's just the way it is, when you get a popular business section downtown," he said.

--Jackie Sanders 

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