A proposed policy allowing developers to reconfigure downtown parking plazas to meet their city-mandated parking requirements received mixed reviews from the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC).
PTC commissioners offered a host of varied opinions May 15 – and ultimately a handful of refinements and additions – on a draft version of the policy. The Los Altos City Council in March voted 4-1 to move forward with drafting a policy that would give downtown property owners a way to redevelop and meet city-imposed parking requirements – by funding the reconfiguration of a downtown parking plaza to create more spaces.
The policy, according to a city staff report, would require developers to pay for public-utility undergrounding, along with new landscaping and trees. The report noted that the 2013 Downtown Parking Management Plan pegged the average cost of reconfiguring all downtown plazas at $110,000 per stall to add 75 spaces. The plan concluded that a stand-alone parking structure would likely add 276 spaces at an average of $38,000 per stall.
Commissioner Ken Lorell said the policy needed more specifics. He also objected to a requirement that redeveloped properties be adjacent to plazas subject to reconfiguration.
“(Downtown) Los Altos is so tiny. Does it really matter that the (parking) spots are exactly at the location of the project? I mean, that seems silly,” Lorell said.
Lorell later added that there was “a bunch of stuff that’s lacking from this. … Obviously, the goal is to get more parking spots, but it just doesn’t seem like it was very well thought through.”
Commissioner Ronit Bodner said the city should establish a parking in-lieu fee program that allows developers to fund a downtown parking structure instead.
“I don’t believe (a parking solution) is more complicated than we think. I think it’s simpler – and I think that because every other town that neighbors us has come up with this same solution,” she said of a parking in-lieu program.
Commissioner Malika Junaid, on the other hand, said the reconfiguration policy offers developers something else to consider – even if it is a pricey option.
“It’s their choice – (but) at least they would have a choice,” she said. “Right now there is no choice. … If they want to pay for it, it’s up to them.”
Property owners react
A pair of downtown property owners at the meeting offered suggestions to refine the policy.
Kim Cranston, speaking on behalf of Los Altos Property Owners Downtown (LAPOD), told the PTC that his group had reservations about a policy requirement to reconfigure all new parking spaces to be 9 feet wide. He noted that developers funding reconfigurations could end up losing spaces, rather than gaining them because some plazas now have spaces narrower than 9 feet.
Main Street property owner Ted Sorensen added that the city could gain as many as 300 parking spaces throughout the nine downtown plazas by striping spaces to 8.5 feet wide and narrowing parking lot lanes from 26 to 24 feet.
“In reality, if you’re going to have a program at all, it will have to be with those dimensions, because otherwise no one will do it, I suspect,” he said.
The PTC ultimately offered some refinements and additions to the policy’s language and development standards.
Among them, three of the five commissioners at the meeting noted that the policy should allow developers to reconfigure plazas within 300 feet of their downtown properties – instead of restricting it to plazas adjacent to the project. The commission suggested tying parking-space dimensions specifically to city code requirements at the time of the project, instead of requiring a standard dimension of 9 feet wide by 18 feet long.
Commissioners concluded that the policy should include a provision to encourage developers to maximize parking when reconfiguring plazas – even if it exceeds their needs. Commissioners said the policy should include a mechanism that allows excess spaces to be sold at cost to other downtown developers seeking to meet city-mandated parking requirements.