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Birmingham parking issues to be addressed

By Kevin Elliott

The future funding and expansion of Birmingham’s public parking system is the focus of a soon-to-be scheduled workshop following a May 10 workshop where city commissioners were presented with a historical overview of city’s parking woes.

Some forty years after Ford opened its second Model T plant on Woodward in Highland Park, the Birmingham Off-Street Parking Committee was formed to find solutions to the city’s parking problem. At that time, it was forecasted that parking charges would be used to pay operating expenses and accumulate funds for erecting multi-level sites.

In 1954, the city created its first parking assessment district for the Merrill parking lot, said Birmingham City Attorney Mary Kucharek. It was thought that after the first lot was finished, new business enterprises should either incorporate adequate parking in their plans or be assessed fully for the benefit it provided to the city.

As the city and parking needs grew, various funding formulas were implemented, each with different structures in assessments to property owners and user fees. The current funding formula assesses building owners, determining assessments by factoring land size and building size equally, with several additional factors applied to each of those categories.

Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus said there hasn’t been a consistent funding application based on city policy, rather it varied from each commission.

“Should there have been some consistency? Yes. But, when dealing with property, you are negotiating,” he said. “We can’t just bill what we choose to bill them.”

How to address the funding formula is one of the questions commissioners hope to tackle. Additional issues brought up at the workshop include whether the Triangle District should be included in the city’s parking assessment district or have a separate district; should there be an assessment for major repairs of parking structures, and if so how would that formula be based; should property owners outside the district be allowed to buy in; and related issues.

“One key component is the idea that we can evaluate where we can be as fair as possible,” said commissioner Mark Nickita. “Going forward, we recognize these oddities over the years to find the best way to unify and clarify it so we can be fair to all the people who invest in our community in one way or another.”

Nickita said another issue is whether the parking system is including residential factors, as prescribed in the 2016 Master Plan.

“As (downtown) is evolving, we need to consider how residential factors in. This, I think, is a critical component of how we evaluate where we are at and where we are going,” Nickita said. “If we go back to our 2016 Plan when we had Andres Duany in town, to review what we had as a downtown plan, he specifically called out the issue of the goal of having more housing in the downtown core, which was a fundamental goal of our downtown plan going back to 1996. But, because of the parking circumstance and the requirement of on-site parking for any residential uses in the downtown, actually what it has done is created a circumstance that doesn’t align with the goals of populating the downtown with residents, and utilizing the downtown as a neighborhood, which has a reasonable amount of people living in the core.”

Commissioner Clinton Baller said he was disappointed with the lack of clarity from commissioners, boards and staff over the years on the parking system.

“It seems to me it would have been appropriate to raise these questions when we enacted the overlay zoning as a result of the 2016 Plan and decided to, you know, dramatically increase density downtown,” he said. “We enacted the Triangle District Master Plan, which depended on public parking. We didn’t discuss it then, and back in 2015 when (then-city engineer) Paul O’Meara starting raising alarm bells about demand for parking, we could have looked at it then.”

Commissioners ended the workshop agreeing to take up the questions at another workshop, yet to be scheduled.


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