Planning commission addresses downtown parking problems

By Chris Mannara
Staff Writer

At a work session on July 14, the Pagosa Springs Planning Commission furthered its discussion on downtown parking and various ideas for the community.

Planning commission member Chris Pitcher and former planning commission member Bill Hudson had previously worked on an outline with some parking considerations for the town, and one of those ideas touched on in-lieu fees.

In-lieu fees for parking describes a scenario in which a development downtown would consider paying a fee instead of providing the on-site minimum parking improvements for the development, according to an email to The SUN from Planning Director James Dickhoff.

“The collected in-lieu fees could then be earmarked for future general public parking improvements that would serve the downtown district public parking needs as a whole. Lodging and Residential developments typically are not eligible for the in-lieu fee option,” Dickhoff wrote.

“I think the general idea is that the in-lieu-of fees, we certainly want to make sure that they are being applied to a location that benefits the business,” he said at the meeting. “It wouldn’t make sense to be spreading out the fees to different parts of the town that other parts have paid for.”

The in-lieu-of fees need to benefit the business that are paying into it, Pitcher explained.

“The idea was that the connection between where that money is spent and where the business is is relatively direct,” he explained.

According to Pitcher during the meeting, part of this process would be defining districts in town locally.

“In each area of town, there’s kind of these low-hanging fruit that we should be able to improve and create some additional parking capacity,” he said.

The price point for in-lieu fees ultimately comes down to the Pagosa Springs Town Council, Dickhoff noted.

“For town council’s consideration, we just want to bring what the realistic cost of developing a parking space with all the accessories that are associated with that,” he said.

Another item to consider when it comes to downtown parking is walking distance for patrons to retailers or other areas in town.

“I think if you ask a native Pagosan like myself, they don’t like to walk very far at all because we never have had to,” Pitcher said. “I think there are some people who are used to walking pretty far in other places to get to where they’re going.”

For Pagosa Springs, convenient parking is preferred, but making people walk has benefits to not only the patrons, but other business owners, Pitcher added.

“If they have to walk by other businesses on their way back or to the car, there may be additional purchases that may happen along the way,” he said.

There is not an overall lack of parking, planning commission member Jeff Posey stated, citing the town’s 2006 comprehensive plan and adding that demand might only be in one district in downtown.

“I think there are some hot spots around town,” Pitcher said. “Specifically I think the east end of town.”

Planning commission member Peter Hurley noted that he had spoken with a couple of local business owners about parking.

“They were suggesting that we do a parking structure basically in that practice football field right across from Town Park,” he said. “They were suggesting doing a parking structure there that you access right off of U.S. 160 and on top of the parking structure have other businesses that could be on top of that.”

It’s important for the planning commission to give town council options and to consider other items, Dickhoff explained.

Some ideas to consider include if town council approves the use of in-lieu fees, where to put the money collected, Dickhoff explained.

Funds could be dedicated to a particular district in which the parking is located, or the money could be placed into a parking fund to deal with parking issues as a whole in the town, Dickhoff described.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to generate enough funds to outright pay for these parking areas unless we increase our in-lieu fees,” he said.

Next steps for this project would involve some parking counts of downtown Pagosa Springs to count parking spaces, Dickhoff noted.

In his email, Dickhoff noted that the planning commission would present its findings and recommendations on parking requirements in two to three months to town council.

This story was posted on July 29, 2020.