In their latest attempt to solve downtown's parking frustrations, Palo Alto officials on Monday night agreed to strike from the books several provisions that offer developers parking exemptions.
The most significant of the exemptions that the City Council unanimously voted to eliminate is one that pertains to downtown projects that undergo historical or seismic renovations and therefore are entitled to "bonus floor area" (additional square footage) under the city code.
These projects will still receive the bonus square footage but whereas before the bonus space was exempt from the city's parking requirements, now it won't be.
The parking exemption is one of several that the City Council suspended in the fall 2013, when it adopted a two-year interim ordinance. With that ordinance set to expire later this year, the council swiftly agreed to make the change permanent.
The ordinance that the council adopted Monday cites the recent growth in downtown's parking demand, with parking occupancies in area neighborhoods "increasing to over 100 percent during peak noontime hours."
"In the same period, there have been increasing spill-over impacts on nearby residential streets as employees and customers seek parking outside of the commercial core, causing the City to pursue its first-ever residential preferential parking program in downtown," the ordinance states.
It also notes that the existing parking rules were adopted "at a time when the downtown was underdeveloped and incentives for redevelopment were needed."
The parking exemptions, the ordinance notes, "contributed to encouraging both the rehabilitation of historic and seismically unsafe buildings and redevelopment in the Downtown core in general."
"The City is now at a point where most of the historic and seismically unsafe buildings have been renovated and the downtown has transformed into an economically thriving area," the ordinance states.
In addition to striking the parking exemption for developments that relied on "on-site" bonuses for historical and seismic renovations, the new ordinance also targets projects that transfer their development bonuses to sites elsewhere in the city through a mechanism known as "transfer of development rights."
Now, whether the density bonus is applied on site or at a different location, it will be subject to the city's parking requirement.
A third exemption that was permanently scrapped pertained to a 200-square-foot "minor floor area bonus" enjoyed by some downtown projects. This bonus area, like the rest of the project, will now be subject to parking requirements.
The council agreed to make these changes with little discussion. Councilman Greg Scharff, who made the motion to go forward with the changes, said he is glad the city is finally making them permanent.
"It's been a long discussion in getting rid of these parking exemptions," Scharff said.