Parking or Piled, You Have a Choice
From my perspective, at least, it appears that climate change may be having an impact on the weather and particularly snowfall. Northwest Pennsylvania still receives a substantial amount of snow, which can have an impact on how people get around town. After years of watching commercial growth occur in the area, I have noticed some things that may need you to consider changing your zoning regulations. I paid very close attention to the parking and docking areas at various commercial establishments. This multi-year observation has yielded some interesting results that are worthy of consideration. Below is a list of those things I noticed in hopes that it makes you think about parking regulations in your community.
Rarely is the parking lot overloaded with customers. The exception might be the holiday season, but I don't even think that happens to any significant extent as it once did and is usually short-lived. Online shopping has drastically reduced this situation.
Due to local regulations, large expanses of paving add an additional burden to the owners and end-users. Paving is costly and regular upkeep, so customers don't have to dodge potholes, is an ongoing maintenance issue. Signage and striping add to those costs.
When we get a significant snowfall event, it causes commercial businesses to plow vast piles of snow into various areas of the parking lot. So now, they have greatly reduced the number of parking spaces to store snow that ever so slowly melts away and saturates the ground with water, salt, and other chemicals that are not so great for the environment, let alone our vehicles.
Those areas of snow piles are rendered useless now for parking, and that condition can last for months, as the frozen mountains can still be around late into the spring season in some areas.
Yet rarely if ever to we get complaints about inadequate parking at these establishments.
Stormwater issues have been a major component in our development process in the last ten years. Unfortunately, these regulations have become highly burdensome for those looking to build in your community. I do not doubt their heavy restrictions in some cases, but it certainly has slowed and even stopped development in many commercial districts. The results of these rules are being monitored and hopefully will show they have helped the environment, but it has yet to be fully determined.
Using antiquated principles developed years ago, "WE" tell the applicant how much parking they must have. This is based on ancient formulas that are cookie-cutter regulations.
So think about that. You are a township supervisor of, let's say, six years and work cutting trees for a living. Now in this modern era, you are telling professionals in their field how much parking they need?
If they were wrong, would they not lose business? Aren't they better at determining what is needed rather than us? After all, they want to be successful; our concern is health, safety, and welfare. Now I am not saying you shouldn't be sure of a reasonable minimum, but there are other factors involved that warrant some commonsense approach to these regulations.
We preach stormwater prevention yet insist on adding MORE impervious surfaces by demanding the creation of parking spaces that many times are not needed.
If snow can be piled up and not interfere with the needed parking, would it not make better sense to enact ordinances that provide for snow accumulation in areas that would drain naturally back into the ground, rather than via storm drains and ditches that erode and need repairs regularly. The latest practices for slow absorption in a controlled environment that allows the snow to safely return to the ecosystem seems to be a sensible approach. Water gardens have grown in popularity and provide an option that could be utilized.
By providing distinct snow plowing collection areas, we can avoid misunderstanding with utility locations like fire hydrants and other public utilities and clearly designate where plowed snow goes and ultimately how it filters back into the environment safely.
Less impervious surface means better run-off management.
Seek out professional help from your engineer and groups like Keystone Municipal Solutions to find better alternatives and ordinances to improve your regulations.
I suggest you consider directing your Planning Commission to look into this radical change and incorporate it into your regulations to promote environmental stormwater controls from snowmelt and rain and make better sense of your dated parking regulations. I have seen that parking regulations are one of the first things that a developer will seek a variance on and typically are successful in obtaining. So why are we making them jump through unnecessary hoops when we can set a clear standard from the beginning? Bottom line, think less paving, more grassy areas for snowmelt, and insist on seeing a snowplowing plan to make it clear where and how it will be addressed, avoiding hydrants, garbage collection, loading docks and lastly, PARKING. "Fire this thing up; we're gonna melt some snow if I can find a place to park."
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.