The Leesburg Town Council on Monday set in motion the potential for sweeping changes in the way the town regulates, charges for, and provides parking in the historic district.
During what Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel termed a “mega” briefing on the downtown parking strategies, the council reviewed nine potential projects designed to address one of the top priorities identified by members during its retreat earlier this year.
While no decisions were made during the work session, council members showed interest in casting a wide net in their efforts to address concerns–real or perceived—about a shortage of downtown parking. Markel noted that, according to staff surveys, the town’s main public parking lots—the Town Hall garage and the Liberty Street lot—are rarely full and the other large downtown facility—the county-owned Pennington lot and parking garage—remains little used.
While there might be plenty of parking available most of the time, concerns continue about providing on-street parking closer to town businesses and how much parking to require of downtown developers.
The town recently switch from parking meters to Parkmobile app payment system on downtown streets. Currently, the town charges $1.50 per hour and the online service collects 50 cents for itself. The council backed a study of increasing the per-hour charge, including an option of dynamic pricing that would charge higher fees during times of peak use. The strategy is intended to promote more rapid turnover of on-street spots. Demand pricing also may be considered for the Town Hall parking garage.
The council also backed a plan to allow short-term visitor parking, up to two hours, on some streets that are part of the residential permit parking program. That model has been tested on sections of Wirt and Cornwall streets without complaints, the staff reported. Under that concept, residents with parking permits would continue to have unlimited access to on-street parking in their neighborhood, but it would no longer be exclusive access.
Members unanimously backed a proposal to consider having the town lease private parking lots to increase the number of public spaces. Director of Economic Development Russell Seymour said as many as 2,000 private spaces could be available in the downtown area. Under the concept, the town will likely enter an agreement to share Park Mobile revenue with the landowner.
There also was a focus on improving the customer experience.
Council member Zach Cummings urged the town to provide visitors with a payment alternative to the smartphone-based Parkmobile app. Staff members said the installation of credit card pay stations likely was cost-prohibitive, but that efforts are made to guide visitors to the town garage, which accepts credit cards, and to the town’s free parking lots.
A council majority agreed to move forward with a technology upgrade to the Town Hall parking garage that would provide motorists information on the number and location of available parking spaces. Already, $150,000 has been budgeted for the project, which may cost $50,000 more to fully implement. The garage has 362 spaces.
One suggestion the council rejected was to restart a downtown trolley service. The concept was to make it easier for visitors who park on the outskirts of the historic district, such as in the Pennington lot, to get to downtown businesses or other destinations like the Village at Leesburg or the Leesburg Premium Outlets. The town operated a trolley service from 2004 to 2013 supported by a federal grant, but it wasn’t viewed as a successful service.
“It just kinda drove around in circle empty,” Council member Kari Nacy said.
Other members noted that private vendors, such as previously approved CartWheels, could provide the service if there is a demand.
The council also agreed to take a new look at parking requirements for new developments downtown. That includes reexamining parking standards for residential and commercial uses as part of the comprehensive rewrite of the town’s Zoning Ordinance.
Members also agreed to consider expanding the zone in which new uses in existing buildings can use the town’s garage or public parking lots as an alternative to providing required on-site parking. Currently, buildings within 500 feet of a public parking facility are eligible.
A continuing point of contention is the town’s program to allow developers who can’t accommodate required parking on their property to pay into a town fund that would be used to provide more public parking in the future. The Payment in Lieu of Parking program is generally panned by both developers and council members as ineffective.
The program started in 1986, with developers required to pay $3,000 per space. That fee was increased starting in 2016 and today is $8,000 per space. However, Deputy Director Planning and Zoning Brian Boucher said it cost about $27,000, exclusive of land, to provide a new public parking space.
Since the program’s inception, 253 spaces have been purchased. The account currently holds $402,000, enough to provide about eight spaces, he noted.
Boucher said the program has played an important role, as intended, in attracting new investment downtown while also discouraging the demolition of buildings to meet parking requirements.
Faced with the question of whether to terminate the program, council members agreed to wait to see how other policy changes would impact new development. However, there was agreement to sustainably increase the per space fee, with Vice Mayor Neil Steinburg suggesting the true cost could be in the $35,000 to $40,000 range.
The town also could overhaul its whole approach to parking management. The council agreed to examine the merits of creating a parking authority, which could take over the operation of the town’s parking facilities, collect parking revenues and issue bonds to develop new parking. The City of Winchester is among seven Virginia jurisdictions with parking authorities.
The council took only straw votes during the work session, with expectations that their approved strategy options will come back with more detailed staff reports in coming months.
Sounds like a money grab to me!
It's obviously all about the money. Lots are underused, so charge more? [rolleyes]
Government never met a revenue opportunity it didn't like. The self-licking ice cream cone, out to serve themselves and their cronies. We need less government, not more.
On street parking on the Town's narrow streets should go away. So you have to walk a bit to spend your money, oh well. The traffic is deplorable, abused and the town would be better served offering free parking in all the half empty garages, and a minimal fee on weekends. The Town has plenty of money so everything does not have to be a cash cow. Developers should plan for two cars per unit at ground or underground level and not build more units than parking can accommodate. Common sense is a beautiful, underused commodity when it comes to building in Leesburg and Loudoun. Just cause people want to move here doesn't mean we build to accommodate. These folks will have to wait til something becomes available, or try the next town.
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