Wednesday, May 19, 2010
This blog post is by guest blogger and UGA 3L (and recent Land Use Clinic alumna) Catherine Mattingly.
The Five Points area in Athens, Georgia is a small-scale mixed-use area in this historic college town. Restaurants, clothing stores, coffee shops, even a grocery store, are located along South Lumpkin, which is the main street of this historic area that takes its name from the five-way intersection at the corner of Lumpkin and Milledge. Next to this cluster of shops lie residential neighborhoods. The district is in theory the perfect place to park one’s car and spend the rest of the day running errands, meeting with friends, attending yoga class, etc. Because these stores are within walking distance of one another, there is really no reason to drive from place to place.
However, you may have noticed that I said “in theory.” Currently, parking in one place and spending the day shopping throughout Five Points isn’t possible. With the exception of a few informal parking agreements between neighboring store owners and a few spots lining Lumpkin Street (which only permit limited time parking), the general rule in the area is that a store patron must be parked in the lot of the respective business he or she is visiting. A frequent visitor to Five Points, I have been burdened by this rule many times. When my Land Use Professor Christian Turner spoke of this problem as a potential paper topic I jumped on board, wanting to learn more about a problem that has hindered the overall appeal of the area. While the solution of shared parking is simple, creating a successful strategy for an entire district that will be adaptable as businesses change over time can be extremely difficult. One must consider the current local ordinances and their restrictions on parking, the local Comprehensive Plan, the total number of spaces as well as potential for new spaces, peak hours for the varying businesses, and the general overall character of the area.
After researching shared parking generally, I emailed most of the store owners in Five Points asking for their thoughts on the matter. Overall, most of the owners and managers with whom I spoke supported shared parking, provided it supplied enough spots for their individual use. A few owners shared that they felt their business suffered at certain times of the day because there was simply no available parking. After interviewing these people, I looked for case studies of shared parking strategies that had already been implemented or studied throughout the country. I found that the primary consideration in the success of a shared parking strategy is whether there are different peak parking hours between stores. The significance behind this factor is that if businesses have varying busy hours, then there are likely spaces available at one nearby store when another is crowded. Therefore, by simply making agreements with other businesses to share spaces during certain times of the day, available spots can be increased without having to actually add any additional spaces. These private agreements can exist in the form of revocable licenses, or appurtenant easements or covenants could also be used.
While agreements such as those mentioned above can be achieved by simple agreements between business owners, a successful district-wide shared parking solution likely calls for control of all available parking by the city. To achieve this, I suggest creating an overlay district. This district would eliminate the need to follow any current parking restrictions in the Athens-Clarke County Code. In addition to adding additional limited-time parking in the area, a parking deck could also be constructed. Alternatively, a larger parking lot could be created by combining many of the smaller lots located behind the old homes that have been turned into local businesses. To give the city the right to control parking, each owner could deed his spaces to the city. Alternatively, a temporary lease agreement could be implemented, but this could hinder construction of permanent changes such as the large lot or deck. These parking options could be geared not just toward immediately neighboring business, but to patrons in the entire area.
In addition to providing additional available spaces to store patrons, shared parking has other benefits. Changing the character of parking in the area could help to change the nature of the district as a whole. For instance, the area would necessarily become more pedestrian-friendly, as visitors are expected to park their cars and walk throughout the district. The city could also take this opportunity to add more green space to the area. Thus, establishing shared parking would assist in making visiting the area not only more convenient, but also safer and more aesthetically pleasing. As space becomes an increasingly important commodity, older districts can retrofit their communities to increase the convenience and attractiveness of the area. Increased revenues will hopefully follow as patrons find these stores easier to visit.
Overall, in researching this issue, I have been reminded of how dynamic local land use issues such as parking truly are. Implementing shared parking will certainly be difficult, but the ability of the area to adapt to change could be crucial for its success, especially in its competition with downtown Athens.
First, I'd like to give props to my UGA colleague Christian Turner for having his Land Use Planning students work on practical projects in the doctrinal class. Second, having read and considered Catherine's paper I congratulate her on excellent work on applying land use concepts to a real, local problem. I shop at the stores and practice at the yoga studio she mentions, so I also struggle with the parking issues. However, I hadn't considered the lots behind the old houses retrofit as shops as a good joint parking lot, but it really is. I hope to promote Catherine's solution locally as a way to create a better pedestrian environment in what should be one of Athens' truly walkable neighborhoods.
Jamie Baker Roskie