In one of the most heated debates city hall has seen in months, a site plan for a 17-unit rental building was denied by the Winona Planning Commission on Monday night because of off-street parking concerns. Kevin Brady of Bluff City Properties said that his rental proposal met all requirements of city code. City staff disagreed. Commissioners and Brady argued. Neighbors concerned for their parking spaces and home values looked on silently.
Brady said that city staff’s stance that he must provide 53 parking spaces (one for each of the potential certified occupants, as determined by square footage) was “a new and creative argument,” which is inconsistent with past policy. “If you look at city code, that’s what it says,” responded Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa in an interview with the Winona Post following the meeting.
Bluff City Properties proposed erecting a lodging establishment (i.e., an apartment complex without kitchens) at 520 Center Street, northeast of Winona State University’s campus. The company’s site plan submission did not include plans for where the company would provide parking for the new building nor did it indicated where parking would be provided for an existing 14-unit rental, which currently uses 520 Center Street as a parking lot. City staff called the company’s site plan “deficient” and asked for more information, chiefly, where parking spaces would be located. “There are way too many things that have not been resolved with this plan,” agreed commissioner James Gromek. “Before we move forward we want those resolved.”
“I don’t know why we’re even doing this before you have your parking solidified,” commissioner Wendy Davis told Brady.
Brady told the commission he intends to lease a property owned by Tom Severson at 62 West Mark Street to provide parking for the new units. Bluff City Properties made a bid to buy the property, Brady said, if another party were the successful bidder, that sale would void any lease deal for parking. Commissioners expressed concerns about that arrangement.
“They can sell that [property] and you’ll be screwed—sorry, you’ll be out of a parking lot,” Davis said.
Brady stated that if parking disappeared, his rentals would be shut down. Commission Chair Craig Porter said, “If you’re willing to take that gamble, it’s not our place to tell you how to run your business.”
Key debate: 17 spaces or 53?
Brady asserted that, under city code, he only had to provide 17 parking spaces, one per certified occupant. Brady pledged that he would only seek certification for 17 occupants from Winona County. The city does not control how many occupants Brady might ultimately seek certification for.
Espinosa stated that under city code Brady needed to provide one parking space per potential occupant, determined by square footage formulas in the city’s housing code. Espinosa’s assertion seems in line with city code, which requires “one parking space per person as established by the Housing Code.” Brady could house 53 people in that building, according to Espinosa. That number is higher than the 49 spaces Espinosa said were required last week. Espinosa said he had forgotten to count one of the units, which can house four people.
Brady said that throughout the site plan process, the number of parking spaces city staff said he was required to provide has repeatedly increased. He disputed Espinosa’s interpretation of the parking requirements, saying it was “not consistent with the spirit of the code, and it is not what’s been done in the past.”
Plan still ahead of proposed parking changes
In a previous interview, Espinosa suggested that Brady may have been trying to submit his site plan before the city council could decide on proposed zoning regulations that would stymie his plans for 520 Center Street. Site plans are considered under the zoning ordinance that exists when they are submitted. Brady said that his site plan, which was submitted days after the planning commissioners first discussed the parking changes now before the council, had nothing to do with those proposed changes. In any case, with commission denial, Bluff City Properties has time to submit a new site plan, including parking details, before those changes are made. If, as Espinosa suggests, it is a race, Brady is still in the lead.
If the commission had delayed making a decision on the site plan, the council might have decided on the proposed zoning changes before the commission met again. Porter inquired about such a situation, asking Espinosa, “If, for whatever reason, we can’t get it done before council makes its change, would [Bluff City Properties] have to comply with that change, or because it’s already been under review would we still [accept] the off-site parking?”
Hypothetically, if the commission delayed a decision and then denied the site plan after council approved new parking rules, Bluff City Properties would have to submit a new plan under the new rules. However, the commission would not have grounds to deny a plan that was in accordance with zoning code. As Espinosa pointed out in response to Porter, “As long as they have the plan put together and they have the spaces designated before [the council’s] decision is made, then we would proceed under the current code.”
Zoning proposal would have mixed effects on parking rules
The changes the council is considering would stop the plan for 520 Center Street, but would have mixed effects on parking in the city as a whole. The changes would require that parking spaces be located closer to lodging units (on-site as opposed to 300 feet away), but would significantly reduce the number of spaces required from one per person to .65 per person. Notably, the proposed changes would also reduce the number of parking spaces required by changing the code to reflect the interpretation espoused by Brady on Monday: lodging businesses need one parking space per actual certified occupant, not for the maximum number of potential certified occupants allowed by square footage. In this case, that distinction would make a difference of 36 parking spaces. The changes might hurt Bluff City Property’s plans for 520 Center Street, but might open other opportunities for developers.