Parking workshop clarifies parking district
By Kevin Elliott
Birmingham City Commissioners on Monday, October 4, met for a special workshop to discuss the future of the city’s parking system and whether it may be further developed to incorporate the city’s Triangle District.
The workshop follows a previous meeting in May, when city staff provided background information on the city’s parking system, which includes parking meters, city-owned lots and five parking structures. Staff on October 4 addressed key questions from the previous meeting, including questions about the existing parking assessment districts; whether businesses outside a district may buy into a district to meet on-site parking requirements; and whether the Triangle District should have its own district or be an extension of the existing downtown parking district.
Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus started the discussion by explaining that all of the special assessment districts created to build the parking decks have since expired and the related bonds have been paid. Further, the city’s special assessment district ordinance limits parking assessments to 20 years, with any additional properties included in a district required to join it within the 20-year timeframe. As all the parking assessment districts have expired, Markus said additional properties shouldn’t be added, per the city’s own ordinance.
“What we have is a parking system and it covers a geographical area, but there are no outstanding assessments,” Markus said. “The bonds have been paid off.”
While Markus said the assessments are complete, he said there have been instances where former city commissions permitted properties to be added to an assessment district outside of the 20-year timeframe, including the school district’s Brookside building and the former downtown post office.
Birmingham developer Doraid Markus – who is planning a five-story, mixed use building, including underground, onsite parking – took issue with other properties outside of the district being added, but not allowing others such as himself.
“How is that fair,” he asked.
“Looking back, I would say it’s a mistake,” Markus said. “But, I’m not sure how you correct that mistake, and it shouldn’t be used as a precedent for further mistakes to be made.”
Birmingham Finance Director Mark Gerber explained there is no real existing way to buy into the expired assessment districts. Rather, he said a new district would have to be created, which would require new public improvement, such as a parking deck.
“There is no real parking assessment district, so if you create one, it will be new,” Gerber said. “You can determine the boundaries, but it has to be a direct benefit to the property owners in that parking assessment district.”
Markus expanded on the idea of connecting the system across Woodward, noting that funds from the city’s parking fund could be used to expand the system, to a degree.
“We are trying to give you advance warning as to how you use those funds,” he said. “If you used $10 million to form the Triangle District, I think you would be faced with an angry mob. On the other hand … maybe to appease objections, maybe the downtown district fronts the money in terms of a loan that eventually gets paid back. You can do that right now. Instead of issuing bonds you can loan it from the general fund or the parking fund, if there are sufficient funds.”
Markus said such a movement would require a connection that could connect the city across Woodward Avenue.
“My goal would be to have one system and have a nexus between the two,” he said. “Woodward is a huge dividing line, like a river running through the community and it’s hard to cross. Maybe that nexus is that we go back and think about bridging, and maybe we bridge that to another deck so there is a connection between the two. An obvious nexus. Right now, there’s a theoretical nexus. If in fact there is a real nexus that exists today, then we missed something because we should have been assessing in the Triangle District for the improvements that were made on this side of the road.”
Commissioner Mark Nickita said he and other urban planners typically oppose skywalks and second-floor bridges, as they tend to move pedestrian activity off of the first floor.
“The bridge idea has huge issues,” Nickita said. “I can give you 20 reasons why it has huge issues, and there would be a stack of urban designers who would say we should think otherwise. I caution the idea of making an assumed decision about something without heavy analysis and discussion.”
At a meeting of the Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) board on Thursday of this week, Marcus issued a more cautionary note to BSD members relative to suggestions by some city council members that the current parking fund balance should be used for constructing a parking deck in the Triangle District, noting a $17-18 million fund balance but a projected $20 million in needed repairs to the current parking structures.