GNV moves to let developers set parking numbers

Home Depot parking lot
City staff said most parking lots are designed to handle peak seasonal and not everyday parking levels, prompting the City Commission to alter Gainesville parking rules. (Photo by Seth Johnson)
Photo by Seth Johnson

Developers might become responsible for setting their own number of parking spaces after the Gainesville City Commission took a first vote to eliminate minimum parking requirements, along with other changes.  

The ordinance, if passed on second reading, would allow businesses to decide how many parking spaces it needs. However, the city would still keep a maximum number of spaces, and the ordinance includes a requirement for any proposed parking lot with more than 200 spaces to build structured parking—meaning a parking garage.  

Mayor Lauren Poe said the change will allow a dynamic market to calculate the parking measurements, with too many or too few spaces hurting the business.  

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“This is not the drastic change in policy many cities would see it as,” Poe said during Thursday’s meeting. “We have already been slow-walking it up to that line with our current policies, and this is just getting it across the goal line.” 

Poe said the ordinances will allow new businesses to adjust to their environment, whether next to UF in a walkable area or in the northwest near the senior center.  

City planner Juan Castillo said Ft. Lauderdale and Sarasota have eliminated the minimum as well, though only within the city centers. He said that Gainesville would be the first that he knows of in Florida to widen the measure to the entire city.  

The ordinance started in 2019 as a potential change to the Land Development Code identified by a joint meeting between the commission and the City Plan Board, Castillo said.

Castillo listed multiple impacts from parking minimums: 

  • Encourages excess of off-street parking 
  • Creates urban spaces with low productive value and high infrastructure cost 
  • Creates a cost burden on small businesses  
  • Increases impervious surfaces 
  • Increases heat sink that adds to hotter urban area 

Castillo also said that Gainesville’s transect zoning already eliminates the parking minimum for all nonresidential uses and half of the residential categories.  

He said a lot of the parking requirements are arbitrary. For a bowling alley, the city forces two parking spaces per alley. For a barber shop or beauty salon, the city requires two per beauty/barber chair. For automotive services, the city requires a parking space for every 200 square feet of floor area. 

Another part of the ordinance would allow mid-street unloading and loading for businesses. The city already allows the practice—where vehicles stop in the middle of the road but still allow cars to pass on either side—in the downtown area. The ordinance would expand it to transact zoning and urban streets.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut asked about the number of accidents attributed to mid-street loading and unloading, which the city calls mid-street parking. Castillo said he didn’t have the numbers, but the motion directs staff to provide the numbers for the past five years.  

The motion also directs staff to return with data on the efficiency of large parking lots in the city. The numbers provided on Thursday only pulled from most locations once and not always at peak times.  

Commissioner David Arreola agreed that the current minimums are too restrictive but had concerns about the impact.  

“How can we make sure we’re keeping the street from just becoming free-for-alls?” Arreola asked.  

Andrew Persons, special adviser to the city manager, said the change represents a small step from the city’s current policy. Developers will still present plans that include parking because most businesses require it. But they can set the number to an appropriate level.  

He said most large parking lots were designed to handle peak hours during peak seasons. So, Oaks Mall has enough parking to accommodate the holiday season during peak times but the rest of the year a portion of the space is vacant.  

“It’s not that drastic of a change from where we are today because, again, Gainesville has had a long history of being very progressive with its parking,” Persons said.  

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos agreed and motioned to move forward with the ordinance. He compared parking lots to roads, noting that the road network is designed for normal traffic levels but not game day. Similarly, parking lots should work for normal levels.

The commission voted 4-3 on the item with commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut and Harvey Ward dissenting. 

Ward said he was a soft “no” and hopes staff can convince him to vote “yes” by the second reading.  

“I will say that I don’t have great faith in the market to make great decisions,” Ward said. “Sometimes, very often, the market makes great decisions. The problem is, once it’s built, if it’s a bad decision it’s too late.” 

Ward said he supports parking maximums and called surface parking a huge problem for the environment and a poor use of space.

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We are just messing up absolutely everything about Gainesville. Looks like someone is running our city right into the ground.

Elizabeth M. Jenkins

I would like to know if there are any guidelines or restrictions on suburban, single family homes' developments? Our neighborhood is basically one short street ending in a cul-de-sac. We had NO problems until 1 house became a rental to a multi-generational family with numerous vehicles. Now, it is difficult to navigate in & out of the neighborhood, not to mention backing out of private drive-ways.