The concept of examining a comprehensive plan for parking in the City of Beacon came up at last week’s council meeting, when council member Lee Kyriakou asked that the topic be put on the workshop calendar. This a good idea, long overdue, although it might make sense to have the Beacon parking study undertaken by the Dutchess County planning office this summer as a starting point; a draft of this document is scheduled to be given to the council this week.
At the moment, the City is reacting to two parking issues: a perceived lack of parking spaces on the east end of town, and the problem the developer of 344 Main Street is having meeting the parking requirements specified in the zoning code for the building he is planning.
The situation at 344 Main is a clear example of the “non-comprehensive,” reactive approach to parking, an approach that may have worked in the past but begins to create lots of problems once both paved-over land and personal automobiles reach a saturation point.
Under the Central Main Street zoning code, the building that the developer wants to put in requires 24 parking spaces for commercial and 18 more for residential. The planning board and the council have already waived the 24 commercial spaces, largely because the building would be across Eliza Street from the municipal lot.
One plan to take care of the residential spaces involved the developer purchasing the vacant lot at the northwest corner of Eliza and Church and paving it over.
Because this lot was formerly the site of a residential home which burned down a number of years ago, and is not in a “PB district”–that is, residential but with the possibility of being parking by special permit–it needed to be rezoned. But rezoning a single parcel is generally considered spot zoning, and is not permitted under State law.
So a proposal was on the table to turn four other parcels near this property into one larger PB zone, thereby, according to the logic of the city planner, avoiding the no-no of spot zoning. This Orwellian doublespeak solution to the problem—making a spot zone a bigger spot–only raised one set of eyebrows on the planning board, which voted 5-1 yes to rezone. Fortunately, for the second time in a row, the city council disregarded the planning board’s recommendation and declined to consider rezoning.
At tonight’s workshop, the council will be looking over the agreement with the landlord of Beacon Plaza on Eliza Street, which includes a drive-thru teller window from a long-gone bank that protrudes into the parking lot. Permission to build the automatic window on the municipal lot was given in 1981. The City is now requiring the landlord to remove the structure, which will probably add another 4-7 spaces to the lot. This work looks like it could be completed by the end of the year.
With the zoning code as it exists, some variation on this parking issue will come up every time a building is proposed. However, in defense of the code as it is, the developer has been asking for variances all along–most crucially the request for five stories at the site, which is clearly not feasible under the current code. Other variances include going from 25 feet to 4 feet for the rear setback, and from the required 10 percent of the lot landscaped to 1.7 percent, all of which has an impact on the number of units and therefor parking requirements.
One possible solution that is being bandied about is to have no parking requirements. Unfortunately, this leaves too much leeway with the developer in certain cases. An approach recommended by those who have studied the issue, including Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, is a maximum parking requirement. This was suggested during the last round of zoning changes, but was not implemented.
Next: What to do with a million dollars: suggestions for how to address our parking “problem.”