Parking 'problem' in Old Town?
A crowd is being drawn to Old Town.
Some even describe a "problem" that exists when it comes to parking. That's a good problem to have, City Councilman Matt Aiken says.
"We all would have loved [years ago] to have had a parking problem," Aiken said. "I'm not sure if I'd go as far as to say we have a problem."
Mayor Ken Shetter even once laughed at the notion during an election, quoting Yogi Berra as saying, "Nobody ever goes there anymore – it's too crowded."
City Council heard a presentation Monday that could disspell a commonly held notion that there's a lack of Old Town parking, while possibly unveiling the future holds a real need for a solution to parking.
There are 1,802 parking spaces in 24 blocks studied in Old Town. Among those, 342 are on-street spaces and another 1,337 are deemed as public spaces.
"The best thing you have is a parking problem in Old Town," said Chad Snyder, senior consultant for Walker Parking Consultants. "It is also one of the worst problems."
At peak use in a heavily-used area of Old Town, the "system has almost reached its capacity," Snyder said.
Almost. But maybe not completely.
"The vast majority of the time, I don't have a problem parking next to where I'm trying to get," Aiken responded.
On Friday evenings, 87 percent of available parking spaces in a heavily utilized area of Old Town are occupied, Snyder pointed out.
The statistic was reversed by Shetter.
"We have more of a perception of a parking problem today, rather than a realistic parking problem," he said. "At a peak time, we have 13 percent of parking available in a core area."
Those are what Deputy City Manager Bradley Ford described as "primo spaces."
The study of Old Town parking began from a standpoint of whether there was a problem, Ford said, and considered if it was an issue in number of spaces or location of those spaces. Also considered was the potential impact of the Plaza project and an influx of student parking in the Old Town area.
"We have to do something," Ford said.
The solution could include timed parking, metered parking or possibly the construction of a parking garage. Two of those solutions could place a burden on enforcement, and the other a financing concern.
"One concern I have [with metered parking] is the drain it would have on our police department," City Councilman Stuart Gillaspie said.
City Councilman Dan-O Strong expressed his opposition to metered parking.
"What we're saying is we're going to tax people for parking," Strong said. "You can call it what you want, but its a tax."
City Councilman Ronnie Johnson also encouraged an alternative to metered parking, even insisting in many communities meters are disappearing, not arriving.
"I've never been a fan of parking meters," he said.
"I am not in favor of any meters," Strong said. "I will tell you that now."
There could be some benefit to metered parking, Shetter considered.
"It would encourage some to go further down the road to find a free space," he said. "I don't think meters will ever generate the revenue to solve your problem."
Ford retorted: "Metering could be in our future, as unpopular as it could be."
City Council may also not be completely sold on time limiting parking.
"If you want to come to Old Town and hang out for three or four hours, we want you to do that," Shetter said. "I don't want to push customers out."
He explained parking at peak times in a core study area of Old Town could be eased by employees of businesses not occupying prime spaces.
"When a business owner complains to me, that's the complaint," Shetter said.
Placing a two-hour time limit on parking spaces could have an adverse affect on businesses, Strong pointed out.
"If you have a 45-minute wait [to be seated in a restaurant], will you deduct that? I don't think its realistic," he said. "It could be really devastating to the restaurants. People may decide just not to come to Old Town."
Some embellish the "problem" with parking, Shetter hinted. He pointed to the distance often parked at big box retailers like Walmart and H-E-B as being just as great as the distance parked by someone in Old Town to reach their destination.
"We had a vision from the start that Old Town was going to be a destination," he said.
He's concerned with the lack of handicapped parking spaces in Old Town. Ford expressed "To Go" spaces are another issue.
A parking garage could one day be a solution, Ford said, but it comes with a hefty expense.
"You're looking at a multimillion dollar project," he said.
"It might be that a new Plaza development requires a garage," Shetter said.
He's asking City Council not to exclude any possible solution. That's at least for a time.
"In five years we're all going to have self-driving cars that will park themselves," he joked.
The presentation produced reliable data for City Council to review for the first time, Deputy City Manager Paul Cain said.
"We wanted to get a framework," he said.
It's worth considering there are different parking needs for different business uses, he said.
"A bar has a longer pattern than maybe a retail store," Cain said.
The presentation gave data that can be used to begin a plan for future parking solutions, Aiken said.
"I don't feel businesses are suffering from a parking epidemic. Although, in time we're going to need more supply," Aiken said. "It is busy in Old Town. That's a good thing."
It could end up being a multi-tiered and multidimensional approach that leads to future solutions to parking in the area.
"I don't think we should take any possible solution off the table. It's going to take multiple solutions," Shetter said. "The Old Town businesses have to be part of the solution."
Financing those solutions is a concern Strong presented.
"We have to find a way to pay for this," he said. "We need to start saving now for this program. Why not start planning now?"
The solution may be found from within, Shetter said.
"I spend as much time eating and shopping in Old Town as anyone," he said. "It has been disappointing everyone hasn't spent the time to find solutions."