DEL MAR — A plan that would allow downtown property owners to pay a fee instead of providing some of their required onsite parking spaces inched forward at the July 1 meeting, with council members directing staff to return with additional information rather than a resolution establishing the fee.
In 2008, five different council members approved an in-lieu program that permits owners to satisfy up to half of their mandated parking stalls, in the central commercial zone only, by paying into a fund that would be used for off-street public parking, such as a garage, or a shuttle service.
Some owners have expressed interest but no applications have been submitted, likely because how much they would pay hasn’t been established in the five years since the plan was adopted.
At the March 18 meeting, council discussed a potential fee of $30,000 per space and asked staff to return with more specifics.
At the July 1 meeting, staff recommended setting the fee at $30,000 per stall per year, excluding land costs, based on the average cost to build a parking structure.
The full fee would be required up front for major remodels or any new projects, which are limited due to available space in the downtown area.
Existing owners who want to expand or change their business use would be allowed to make $1,000 annual payments that equate to $2.74 a day for each space. By comparison, Planning Director Kathy Garcia said it costs $22 a day to parking in a metered space.
Fee suggestions from restaurateurs, the businesses most likely to use the program, ranged from $60 to $475 per year per stall. Property owner George Conkwright suggested the cost be comparable to what businesses pay for sidewalk cafes, which is slightly more than $2 per square foot, or $650 annually.
He said the fee “provides nothing more than a waiver of requirements,” and a parking meter at least guarantees a parking space.
Resident Bill Michalsky, the only other person to address council on the topic, described the in-lieu program as “piecemeal establishment of what should be an orderly process to develop a parking master plan in our city.”
He said he doesn’t oppose the concept, but it should not be adopted until the location of a parking facility has been identified, a design is complete and costs and financing are determined.
He said the program benefits businesses but creates a burden for residents.
“This is a no win for the people who reside in the adjoining zones until other fixes are in place,” Michalsky said. “This is not right or fair to the residents. How many gifts might you give away before the real parking spaces show up?”
According to the code, the city is not required to provide the parking until business owners have committed to 50 in-lieu spaces.
Council members generally support the program but agree more work is needed on the specifics, such as how the money will be used during the early collection period and where the spaces will be located.
“This is a problem with multiple parts,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “And it seems to me attacking one part without understanding how it fits into the whole parking plan doesn’t work very well.
“I’m in favor of having a parking master plan for the city so that we understand what part of the revenue we need to solve our perceived parking problem — what will come from in-lieu fees, what will come from metering downtown, putting in pay-and-display machines in the coast area,” he added.
For years city officials have discussed building a parking garage on the City Hall site.
“I’m not convinced at this point in time we need 200 spaces at 11th Street (where City Hall is located),” Mosier said. “Our parking problem is centered around 15th Street. And it will be very expensive to construct those 200 spaces here and find that we don’t need them.
“We need a more comprehensive plan that addresses a number of problems,” he added.
Councilwoman Lee Haydu agreed, noting the plan was like “putting the cart before the horse.”
Councilman Al Corti favored moving forward. “Maybe we should just promise the public and commit ourselves that we will work on it and get it done in the next six to 12 months,” he said.
“I say let’s move forward and let’s give the public and some of the businesses an opportunity,” he added. “I don’t think many of them are going to take advantage of it. … I think it can help some of our existing problems.”
Mayor Terry Sinnott said he supported the plan but was uncomfortable “that we have a fee, we may collect money and we don’t really have any actual parking that we, the city, can provide.”
“I think we’re still not there as far as how this is actually going to be used,” Sinnott said. “It may be a promise that we can’t keep and I don’t want that to be the situation.”
Council members made it clear they don’t want the city to subsidize any private parking. They directed staff to return during a future meeting with information on how the money will be used once it is collected, especially in the early phase of the program, and where parking can be provided.
They also said they would like to see how the in-lieu program can be coordinated with other parts of the parking management plan that is currently ongoing and to consider starting out with a limited number of in-lieu spaces.