Does downtown Steamboat Springs have a parking problem?
New city hall and fire station will remove 41 spaces from downtown, which has been a significant concern
Steamboat Springs’ new city hall and fire station project will eliminate 41 parking spaces, which equates to about 1.5% of the roughly 2,770 spaces available throughout downtown.
Parking was a significant concern about the project when it went before the Planning Commission earlier this month and sparked additional conversation on Tuesday, March 21, as City Council approved steps to move the project along.
Both conversations about the project featured one larger, underlying question: Does downtown Steamboat have a parking problem?
On Tuesday, City Manager Gary Suiter gave his opinion, though he admitted many people — including his own wife — might disagree.
“I don’t believe we do have a parking problem here,” Suiter said. “I usually can park within one or two blocks of where I want to go downtown. I don’t mind walking a block or two, but that’s not everybody’s expectation.”
The future home of the city hall building is on what is now a parking lot adjacent to the old city hall building, which is in the early stages of being torn down. That lot is largely used by city staff but is also open to the public after hours and on weekends.
The loss of that lot has been raised as a significant concern about the project by adjacent businesses, public comments, planning commissioners and some council members.
“I hate the parking plan,” said planning commissioner Robert Rusher Jr. on March 9. “More than just city employees use that parking, that’s a big parking lot. … we’re losing 40 spots, big concerns there.”
“Everyone is jumping up and down for a parking study at Howelsen Hill,” said resident Walter Magill during public comment, who noted the last downtown parking study was in 2014. “We can’t do a downtown parking study? … I think it’s past due and the city as the applicant here should be putting that budget on here.”
In two 6-1 votes, Council approved two steps for the new city hall and fire station on Tuesday, the planned unit development, generally referred to as a PUD, and vacation of city right-of-way on 10th Street to accommodate the fire station. The first of those outlines development standards that vary from the city’s code.
The PUD outlines that the city would vary from current parking standards for the fire station, as current rules require one parking space for every 300 square feet for a public safety facility. That math would require the fire station to have 41 parking spaces, but current plans propose 16.
In a report, city staff said that a smaller amount of spaces was reasonable for two reasons. The first is that the fire station will generally have just eight fire fighters there, needing just eight spots. The only time that would be different is for one hour every 48 hours during shift change, when they would need 16 spaces to accommodate the firefighter’s vehicles.
The second is that the 16 spaces equates to roughly one space for every 750 square feet of the station, which exceeds the requirements for other building types like an office or restaurant.
City hall itself will actually exceed parking requirements outlined in the city’s code for an office, which requires one space for every 900 square feet. That math would require about 18 spaces, but city hall will include 21.
When including parking at Centennial Hall, the new city campus will have 63 parking paces, which is three more than what the code and PUD require. Still, it reduces overall parking in the area by 41 spots.
“Available on- and off-street public parking is important to the community at-large, yet no one’s development proposal, regardless of who the applicant is, can be responsible for resolving community-wide matters,” city staff writes in its report. “Staff fully supports a separate, comprehensive discussion of available on- and off-street public parking downtown in general.”
When asked by council how the city planned to address the reduced amount of parking, Suiter explained that the city has a variety of programs planned to encourage city staff to carpool, bike or use public transportation to get to work.
“What we’ve come up with are parking mitigation, trip reduction programs, travel demand management programs that we’re looking at,” Suiter said. “We’re confident that we can manage parking without having it impact multiple surrounding blocks.”
Council member Heather Sloop said parking was part of why she voted against moving the project along on Tuesday, though she also expressed larger frustration with the process in general — a process that has seen the city move out of city hall and start tearing it down before approved through the planning process.
“I’m disappointed in the process,” Sloop said. “I cannot support this because there is no parking study. … We all know the rules, so we made a PUD to make sure that we could skate around the rules. That’s how I feel and I bet a lot of the public feels the same way.”
Council member Michael Buccino said he disagreed with Sloop, saying that a PUD is the correct way to build a public building like this and that the new buildings will address bigger problems the city is facing than a lack of parking downtown.
“The (development code) has this PUD process for projects just like this,” Buccino said. “Yes, we are losing some parking, but the city is getting a much needed city hall, a much, we’re getting a much needed fire station, improvements to the community. Under my watch, I support this project.”
Council passed both ordinances on first reading on Tuesday, with Sloop opposing both. Each will be considered on second reading at the April 4 meeting.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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