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Wednesday, 06 April 2011 19:10

Waynesville considers compromise on parking in front of building

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Waynesville leaders will vote this month on whether to loosen town guidelines governing growth.

A special task force spent the past 18 months reviewing the town’s development standards and recommending changes. The town’s land-use plan was heralded for its smart growth principles when it was passed in 2003, but developers have repeatedly complained the standards were too arduous and confusing, prompting the task force review.

The task force, which includes development and real estate interests, presented its recommendations to the town board at its last meeting, but aldermen elected to take some extra time to consider the measures.

Long at the center of contention have been the town’s parking regulations. For new commercial buildings, parking lots must go to the side or rear — rather than in front — of the building.

The concept promotes a boulevard aesthetic in the town’s commercial districts, advancing the goal of making Waynesville a more walkable, visually-appealing town, said the Lawrence Group, consultants who helped the town craft the new ordinances.

The idea is to turn streets now fronted by parking lots into tree-lined avenues and store façades that will provide a more welcoming entrance into the town.

In the new regulations, however, there is a provision for allowing limited parking in front of buildings in certain commercial districts. But nailing down the specifics of just how and when that option can be invoked has been the subject of some ire over the last year as the new standards were discussed.

“That was probably our biggest friction point with developers was the parking in front,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s planning director. In the new regulations though, Benson pointed out “there are a lot of variables in parking patterns now.”

Benson presented aldermen with a number of different scenarios that could crop up under the new guidelines, trying to illustrate what the more relaxed rules would look like for real businesses.

For big-box stores like Wal-Mart, they could have up to 150 spaces in front, while large retailers with a slightly diminished footprint, like Best Buy, would only be allowed around 25 spaces in front. Smaller stores such as CVS or banks would only get about eight front spaces under new regulations.

Among some members of the task force, this compromise didn’t always meet a positive response.

“It doesn’t help that much,” Joe Taylor said of the front-parking concessions in the updated guidelines. Taylor, of Taylor Ford dealership in Waynesville, was on the steering committee and was an outspoken advocate of allowing parking in front.

He said the committee suggested the provision for front parking to give potential developers a break in otherwise tight regulations. The problem, he said, is that it doesn’t quite do what they’d originally envisioned.

Under the new wording, up to 50 percent of the minimum parking required for the stores under the town’s ordinance could go in front.

But the minimum number of parking spots required for a store is far less than any store would actually have.

“We don’t require a lot of parking. They [developers] usually want almost three times as much as we want,” said Benson.

Taylor said the required minimum is so small, that allowing 50 percent of that to go in front doesn’t do much.

“It takes the benefit of it away unless it’s a real large store,” Taylor said.

Though aldermen could have voted to adopt — or reject — the updated rules after the public hearing in March, board members all said they wanted just a little more time to mull over the proposals and give the public one last chance to weigh in.

And in the mean time, Benson has proposed a new option for the contentious front parking issue: special use permits, which would give developers with legitimate parking gripes a way to talk about it with planners.

By allowing special use permitting, said Benson, the board of adjustment would be able to hear pleas from business owners and builders on a case-by-case basis, judging them against a set of standards that complement the parking compromises already reached.

Under this recommendation, if a site meets one of several requirements — it has tricky terrain that governs where the building can sit or the business is looking to join with others and create a courtyard parking atmosphere, among others — the board would be able to give them some leeway.

In the end, the aldermen all said they wanted to reach a set of standards that are best for both the town residents and businesses.

“I’m a firm believer in compromise and finding the best compromise for this community. I want to maintain what is best for Waynesville and I believe we can do that,” said Alderwoman Libba Feicther.

For his part, Mayor Gavin Brown said that, after months of negotiation and debate, he’s ready to get the changes to the land-use plan out of discussion and on the books.

“I think the process has been more than democratic,” said Brown, and now it’s time to take that democratic effort and translate it into real, working guidelines that will hopefully lead the town into a better, more beautiful future.

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