Editor's note: This is the first of several stories that will focus on the issue of parking in downtown Farmington. Weigh in on the conversation by taking our poll and leaving a comment below.
When replaced a small, one-story neighborhood bar with an upscale, two-story restaurant in downtown almost nine years ago, owners of the longtime business struck a deal with city officials.
In order to meet city parking requirements, the restaurant contracted with the , located at the corner of Farmington Road and Grand River, for the use of the lodge's parking lot. That agreement no longer exists, and the rules that prompted it have changed.
"Our downtown parking standards were essentially comparable to a shopping center standard," Farmington City Manager Vince Pastue said. Any new construction required a business to find or create enough parking spaces to meet its customers' needs.
The standard changed after the (DDA) joined the Oakland County Main Street redevelopment program in 2003. Community volunteers, working with consultants provided by Main Street, amended the DDA's master plan to ease parking standards, bringing them in line with other downtowns, DDA Director Annette Knowles said.
Pastue said the city now calculates parking needed by the business, then has the owner sign an agreement that waives the requirement for on-site parking, with the understanding the owner will participate in any future parking expansion. Any major project — such as a new lot or parking deck — will be driven by development within the DDA district, which stretches along Grand River from just west of Grace Street to Mayfield Street.
The downtown master plan shows "the need for a parking deck is very clear," Knowles said. "At which point we're ready for that deck depends on how much investment goes in."
Downtown Farmington isn't really ready for a pay-to-park option either, she said. "There are not immediate plans to do pay-to-park. The issue ... is you have to have an ongoing critical mass of parking," Knowles explained, "where ours is more situational."
The reality, she added, is that no parking is free — somebody's paying for it, whether it's the consumer, the business owner or the municipality. Given the economy, she said, "We're at a place where the city can't afford to provide free parking anymore."
Convenient parking in short supply
Officials also know that business owners believe overall parking in downtown Farmington is "inadequate," Knowles said, even though some parking areas remain largely unoccupied much of the time. "It's because it's not situated in the right places," she explained. "There is an inadequate supply of close-up, convenient parking for their customers to use."
Some unique conditions limit options to create a plan using existing spaces, Knowles said.
"In a downtown, you try to leverage daytime uses versus evening uses," she said. In other words, a retail business that requires more parking during the day could be paired for parking with an entertainment venue that has heavier traffic after dark.
"In many downtowns, they try to have common lots for those multiple users," Knowles said. That's a challenge in downtown Farmington, where only about 30 percent of parking spaces are publicly owned. Unless private owners are willing to enter into agreements for public use of their property, the ability to implement that kind of parking strategy is limited.
Officials say they will continue looking for opportunities to add spaces — such as the changes City Council members made Monday night to switch parking from the west side to the east side Liberty Street, for a gain of five spots. The Masonic Lodge parking lot is back in play; city officials recently struck an agreement to open those 22 spaces, largely for downtown employee parking.
Full development of the streetscape on Grove Street, in front of the strip mall that includes and , would add between 15 and 19 spaces. Knowles said economic conditions forced the DDA and the city to delay that project in favor of completing the Grand River streetscape, but she anticipates some resolution in that area in the next six months to a year.
"There are those who believe Grove Street is a priority," she said. "But that's a City Council decision."
But before any new construction takes place, Knowles said, officials are looking at how to make the best use of existing parking.
"The first step is to try to manage the parking you do have in a better way," Knowles said.