By Chris Mannara
Downtown parking and potential ideas that could be in place for the Town of Pagosa Springs were discussed by the Pagosa Springs Planning Commission at a work session on April 28.
“In an essence, we believe the lots uptown or outside the downtown district are large enough to accommodate the minimum parking requirements that are in our code,” Planning Director James Dickhoff said.
Downtown lots are much smaller, Dickhoff explained, adding that complying with the town’s current code of on-site parking on the smaller lots causes problems with the lots’ ability to be developed.
According to Dickhoff, for most retail and restaurant establishments, the town’s minimum requirement for parking is one parking space per 300 square feet.
“The way we explain that provision to our applicants is our parking standards are minimums. They’re not optimums for the particular business that you’re proposing to do,” he said. “We encourage our applicants to take into consideration what they’re optimal parking needs are going to be and consider that in their design of their site.”
Some of the challenges that Pagosa Springs has seen in regard to downtown parking comes from the community being described as a “pass-through” community, Dickhoff described.
“Most of the traffic on Highway 160 is literally passing through our community. They’re not necessarily living in our community or visiting our community, but we want them to stop and visit our community,” he said.
Therefore, the town wants to provide enough parking opportunities for those who are passing through, he explained.
There is also a lack of RV parking spaces despite a lot of RV traffic through town, he added later.
“We have very little RV parking spaces that are actually negotiable with a large RV,” he said.
At peak times, parking is at around 70 to 90 percent capacity, Dickhoff explained.
“That’s much of the summer season,” he said. “I think it’s closer to 25 to 50 percent off-season. I think there’s plenty of parking off-season.”
The town also wants to encourage walking traffic for those who do end up parking downtown, he added later.
Goals, future planning
In order to address the problem, research has been conducted of what similar communities have done to address their parking issues, he added later.
Those communities included Durango, Salida, Telluride, Frisco, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.
These communities were selected because of population size and being small, rural, mountain communities, he added later.
“We are seeing most of them are considering a reduction on the on-site parking requirements that would be required in other portions of the community that are outside the downtown district,” he said.
There are some fee-in-lieu programs in some of those communities, he explained.
“If you can’t fit it on-site, you have the choice of paying a fee in lieu instead of providing that parking space on-site,” he said.
Those fees can range from $2,500 to $25,000 and can even be more, Dickhoff described further.
“Locally, I think that’s something we may want to consider. We’ll just have to consider what a reasonable fee is. It can get pretty extreme when you look at the cost of purchasing the property to accommodate the parking space or parking lot,” he said.
Enforcing of parking laws is also another issue to address, Dickhoff explained, noting that local business owners have requested the town continue to enforce the laws.
Some business owners have explained that people are not adhering to two-hour limits on parking and are parking for however long they want, he explained further.
Enforcement could be achieved through chalking tires, parking meters or tickets that people can purchase at a kiosk to verify their parking, he explained.
Shared parking agreements are also an important thing to consider, especially in the summer time, Dickhoff noted.
For example, the Pagosa Springs Middle School property at 309 Lewis St. is closed during the majority of the peak season in the middle of the summer, he described.
“Those parking lots sit empty generally. Those might be great spaces, for example, for those eight-hour parking needs for employees,” he said. “We’d have to have that conversation with the school district.”
Part of what Dickhoff described as a “reasonable process” in moving forward would be to engage business and property owners to get their thoughts and to involve the public works and police departments, as well as the tourism board, in discussions.
From there, the planning commission could develop recommendations, following public meetings, to town council for parking strategies downtown and enforcement considerations, he added later.
“I think there’s a lot of communities across the country that are changing their attitude towards parking,” planning commission member Chris Pitcher said.
According to Pitcher, the Dallas, Texas, area is “overwhelmed” by parking lots and the city is incentivizing developers to build in those parking lots to have more density and walkable space downtown.
“I think our current code is kind of, on a much smaller scale, obviously, on that same path as Dallas,” Pitcher said.
Education on parking for business owners would also be valuable piece to the process, Pitcher added.
“There is a lot of businesses downtown that I think have that mentality that they need parking right in front of their store or really close by and part of this process is going to be convincing them that there’s other ways to do it that are even more effective in getting customers in their store,” he said.
Pagosa Springs has been on the same path as other communities where “cars rule the world,” planning commission alternate member Bill Hudson said.
He added, “I think we have a real problem that we want two different things that are pretty much opposed to each other. We want a walkable, friendly community where people are in contact with each other and meet each other and yet we have this code that, so far, is so focused on parking.”
Parking and walkability are intertwined, planning commission member Jeff Posey added.
Hudson later suggested that communities with similar downtown sizes such as Del Norte should be researched.
“As we look at these other communities, we have to look at how their downtowns function,” Hudson said. “We have a main highway running through the middle of it and a lot of very small lots along that highway. That’s not really typical of the way cities are put together.”
Posey suggested finding out how these communities pay for their public parking.
“What are some free things that we can do?” Posey asked. “But changing striping might squeeze in some more parking, and that’s probably one of the cheapest things you can do.”