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Efforts to overhaul the downtown Scottsdale parking code hit a snag last month when the Planning Commission voted 5-1 on April 14 to recommend City Council deny most of changes recommended by city staff.

Efforts to overhaul the downtown Scottsdale parking code hit another roadblock last month after the city’s Planning Commission recommended City Council pause most of the proposed changes.

The commission’s vote is a non-binding recommendation only, so Council will have the final say when it considers the parking code changes on Tuesday, May 4.

The code has been under review for nearly two years after Council first directed staff to examine the issue at the behest of local merchants and property owners.

They contend that new developments eat into public parking that should be reserved for shoppers and tourists.

Staff presented a host of code changes that would impact new multifamily apartment and condo developments, office projects and hotels. Among the changes would be new required parking ratios for downtown apartment and condo complexes.

Those changes would include increasing parking requirements for new multifamily and require one guest parking spot per eight units for all apartments citywide. The proposal would also decrease requirements for units with two or more bedrooms.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 on April 14 to recommend Council deny most of those changes until the city can commission and review a new downtown parking study. The last one was done in 2015. 

Scottsdale City Planner Bryan Cluff said the recommendations were based on several different sources, including industry standards and information available about existing developments downtown.

While the commissioners acknowledged the parking problem, they did not feel comfortable making a recommendation without a new study.

Commission Vice Chair Joe Young said he did not want to kick the can down the road, but felt the data wasn’t available to make an educated decision.

“I’m just concerned that our data is not current; that it’s not always relevant; that it’s just that it’s not always reliable,” he said.

Commission Chair Paul Alessio said the study would tell the city whether its existing supply of around 9,000 public spaces downtown is sufficient.

Commissioner Barry Graham, the only no vote, indicated he did not necessarily support all the proposed text amendments but also did not agree with the reasoning included in the motion for denying the changes.

But the commission vote is still a blow for local business owners.

“Let me tell you that there is a huge issue with parking and it’s time for this commission and the city council to stop kicking the can down the road and come up with some solutions,” downtown business owner Don Edwards told the commission.

But even supporters took issue with several proposed changes, arguing they don’t go far enough to deal with what they deem an impending parking crisis.

Merchants took particular issue with changes to parking requirements for multifamily developments.

They said the increased parking requirements for smaller units would be cancelled out by the decrease in those for larger units.

Cluff said a staff analysis of 12 existing downtown multifamily projects showed the complexes tend to have more studio and one-bedroom units and that the changes would increase parking by 15 percent for similar projects.

He said the analysis showed an average mix of 63 percent studio/1-bedroom and 37 percent larger units.

Still, Cluff acknowledged there is no guarantee that future projects would feature the same unit mix.

Downtown gallery owners Bob Pejman and French Thompson said the new apartment rules were essentially a wash.

“These things that are coming up here to you are what I would consider (for) a mediocre or a level-two city in the state of Arizona… I don’t feel that Scottsdale is a mediocre or a second-tier city,” Thompson said.  

Pejman and Thompson were two of the over 130 signers to a petition first sent to City Council in fall 2019 that called for more aggressive parking changes.

The petition, also supported by the Coalition for Greater Scottsdale, called for one guest parking spot for every four units and increased ratios of 1.5 spaces for one-bedroom units; two spaces for two-bedroom units; and one additional space for each additional room.

Cluff said staff did not feel comfortable supporting such aggressive changes without a parking study. 

“A lot of the modifications that are included in this text amendment were geared towards addressing the concerns that were presented with that petition,” Cluff said.

But, he noted, “it really resulted in some substantial increases to parking requirements…that staff didn’t feel comfortable making such a substantial change to the code without having that additional information that would be available through a study.”

Council first asked staff for a new parking study over a year ago, but the process was delayed by the pandemic, which disrupted normal activity downtown and would have tainted the reliability of any study.

“We’re probably months away from being in a position where we would get a fair parking analysis,” said Tim Curtis, Scottsdale’s principal planner.

The continued delays in the study have frustrated the business owners and they are asking Council to defy the commission recommendation. 

Thompson wrote Council, “You can make these changes now for the future and if by some chance an honest parking study proves that a development is over parked you can adjust it at that time.”

The new regulations would also respond to criticism that employees at downtown call centers are using up available public parking. 

They would create a new category requiring call centers to provide one parking space per 200 square feet, up from the one space per 300 square feet currently required.

It would also lower the hotel parking requirement citywide, which Cluff said would bring the ratio in line with industry norms.

Cluff said developers downtown can still request an additional decrease. City staff can approve decreases up to 20 percent to 0.8 spaces per room while larger ones require Council approval.

Hotels are also required to provide parking for all other uses on site like restaurants or conference halls. But the new regulations would provide an exception for the first 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

Graham took issue with that exception, arguing it sends the wrong message about what the city is trying to accomplish.

“That seems like something that you would do when you want to spur development…I think that most people here would say we want to make sure that Scottsdale gets Scottsdale-quality development,” he said.

Randy Grant, the city’s planning director, said determining adequate parking is an “inexact science” and new rules are about finding a balance without creating overly burdensome rules requiring developers to build parking that can cost as much as $50,000 per space.

“So in the interest of getting redevelopment and revitalization to occur, we don’t really want people to provide a lot of extra parking,” he said.