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Student rental parking changes stalled (07/28/2013)
By Chris Rogers
"We battle students parking on lawns and driving in between our houses to get to the parking lot," two homeowners said of a neighboring lodging establishment. For the couple and their neighbors, an ongoing council debate strikes close to home. Should Winona reduce off-street parking requirements for dormitory-style housing? Do the current rules require excessive parking space? What is the right balance where large lodging establishments and family homes share a neighborhood?

A "housekeeping" amendment, proposed by city staff and the Planning Commission, would reduce the number of off-street parking spaces required for lodging and boarding establishments throughout the city. The amendments actually change three conditions of the parking rules for lodging and boarding establishments. (See sidebar story.) The changes both relax the rules, by reducing the number of parking spaces required, and tighten rules on how close those spaces must be to the buildings they serve.

Dormitory-style housing, officially known as lodging and boarding establishments, are apartments without kitchens. Though they function as apartments or dormitories, they are treated as a commercial use under city code. Fingall Hall at Huff and Howard streets, and Izzy's and Shorty's at Center and Mark streets, are examples of lodging establishments.

Council confusion

After a confusing conversation on the parking regulation changes at the last City Council meeting, council members decided to postpone the vote until the August 5 meeting.

City staff attempted to explain the zone change, but several comments made by staff seemed to further confuse council members. Additionally, little attempt was made to provide information on the ways the parking regulation change would affect neighborhoods currently congested by the automobiles of renters who park on the street.

In an interview with the Winona Post two weeks ago, Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa said he didn't know the way in which the parking requirement changes would affect existing lodging and boarding properties. In an interview last week, Espinosa provided some answers: dormitory-style structures with off-site parking could continue as a "nonconforming" use, and those with the number of spaces currently required, located on-site, could actually reduce the number of parking spaces under the new regulations.

In the past, when city leaders have considered changing parking requirements throughout the city, it has been through comprehensive planning that includes the creation of maps and other documents that help council members better understand the ramifications of a proposed change for various high-density rental neighborhoods. Proposals that change the city's standards for rental parking have also come with heated, prolonged debate.

The current parking regulation changes, however, arose following a proposal to change the B2.5 zone, a two-block area downtown surrounding the condo formerly owned by Dave McNally. Along with changes to the tiny B2.5 zone, city staff developed the new parking changes, which would affect dormitory-style housing throughout the city. This proposal came without typical public debate and has been referred to by city staff as mere "housekeeping" changes to city code.

"I know that we've had discussions, and fought really hard because of the changing times," City Council member Gerry Krage said of parking regulations. Having your own car used to be more rare, but as that changed, the city began pursuing a goal of requiring one parking space per person, he said. "Now we seem to be going backwards," he said of the proposed reduction.

"I don't understand why we would want to go backwards unless we're specifically looking at development in that area that has different needs than, say, your average rental," Krage continued.

Why reduce parking

At the meeting, city staff said the amendments "are needed to provide clarification." Requiring on-site parking helps the city in the difficult task of enforcing parking rules, staff added. When parking is far from a building, and parking lot property belongs to a separate landowner, it can be complicated to ensure that lodging establishments are providing all of the required space, Espinosa explained.

As for reducing the parking requirements, Espinosa explained that the city wants to avoid excessive parking requirements because having oversized parking lots wastes developable land, and onerous parking rules drive up costs for developers. The change brings parking requirements for lodging and boarding establishments more into line with residential apartments, staff pointed out.

Changing how the number of persons in a unit is determined from a square footage formula to the actual number of persons certified to live in a unit makes things more fair and reasonable, Espinosa said. Under the square footage formula, a large unit would be required to have parking for three people even if it were only certified for one occupant. In such a case, "Three parking spaces is too much," Espinosa said.

Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.

The parking proposal

For dormitory-style housing, the proposed "housekeeping" amendments would:

Reduce parking requirements from one space per person to .65 per person.

Change how the number of persons is determined. Currently, it is based on square footage,

so a unit large enough to hold two people is required to provide parking for two people,

even if only one person lives there. Under the proposal, the number of persons would be

determined by the number of persons certified to live there. "That's going to also help

reduce the number of parking spaces a little bit," Winona Building Official Steve Carson said.

Require parking to be on-site, as opposed to the current rule that allows it to be anywhere

within 300 feet of the establishment.

The proposal also reduces parking requirements for owner-occupied rentals from one per person to one per unit. 


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