New places, more spaces?

City of Chico looks at how parking spurs or deters housing downtown

The private lot at East First and Main streets presents an opportunity for day/night parking rotation, a concept suggested to the Internal Affairs Committee.

The private lot at East First and Main streets presents an opportunity for day/night parking rotation, a concept suggested to the Internal Affairs Committee.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Chris Jennings has a vision for downtown—a sliver of it, at least. In the spot on Main Street that Campus Bicycles previously occupied, he’s developing a multistory, multiuse building that will get around two dozen Chicoans living in the city center.

Jennings’ project consists of restaurant or retail space on the ground floor, 12 housing units on two upper floors and a penthouse restaurant venue. The residential portion dedicates 1,000 square feet inside for bike storage. Proximity to shopping, eateries and public transportation further add to what Jennings describes as “urban living.”

The city’s Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board (ARHPB) approved his project last month, but with a stipulation he’s appealing: payment for parking spaces his building won’t provide for the 12 dwellings. The city requires fees in what is called the Downtown In-Lieu Benefit Area, where developers cannot create on-street parking and won’t or can’t integrate parking into their projects.

Monday afternoon (Jan. 7), Jennings’ architect, David Griffith, told the three Chico City Council members on the Internal Affairs Committee (IAC) that the ARHPB reacted favorably to waiving in-lieu parking fees for the project. It’s in the downtown core, “where everyone wants to walk,” surrounded by bike paths and public transit.

Jennings told the committee: “We’re not just putting a bike rack outside and saying, ‘This is urban living.’”

ARHPB members didn’t deem waiving fees as within their purview, so the fees stand, pending the appeal. That will go to the council, as will a series of measures about downtown parking aimed at spurring residential development.

At the IAC’s first meeting under the council’s new progressive majority, Vice Mayor Alex Brown and Councilmen Karl Ory and Scott Huber unanimously recommended five policy changes for downtown parking and asked city staff to come up with alternatives to in-lieu fees for the committee to consider next month.

The proposals moving forward include counting the spaces required based on bedrooms rather than residential units, redrawing a boundary dividing downtown parking districts and mandating a supplementary rental charge for parking rather than including it in the building-space lease cost (see Staff, in conjunction with a consulting firm, recommended in-lieu fees between $8,000 and $10,000 per space; the IAC requested additional amounts and analysis, plus an option for developers to pay the total over multiple years.

“I think the fees are needed,” Huber told the CN&R afterward. “Yes, we want to develop downtown into a mixed-use commercial [area]; that’s going to revitalize downtown. But it doesn’t come at no cost as far as where people park in the long term.”

The previous fee was $18,148 per space. However, the city hasn’t collected in-lieu parking funds for a decade. That’s in part because there hasn’t been residential development downtown, just commercial development, which doesn’t carry the fee. In addition, the municipal code hadn’t contained provisions for collecting the fee, because the city decided to “reduce and/or eliminate some … downtown parking requirements,” Brendan Ottoboni, director of public works-engineering, told the CN&R.

During the IAC meeting, property owner David Halimi, president of the Downtown Chico Business Association, decried any fee as a deterrent to development. DCBA Executive Director Melanie Bassett echoed him, telling the committee that she knew several parties interested in projects who would back out if fees were too high.

They, along with developer Tom DiGiovanni, discussed the untapped potential of vacant second floors downtown.The IAC agreed, with Ory calling for a goal of 100 housing units for working adults—people who’d “keep an eye on downtown” like residents do in neighborhoods.

DiGiovanni described a burgeoning new reality of Uber, car- and bike shares, even day/night rotation of reserved parking spaces and those on special-permit blocks.

In the meantime, in-lieu fees are on the table. Brown—like Huber a council newcomer—told the CN&R that determining the right amount “is an extremely delicate balance between promoting student and workforce housing, which we’re in desperate need of, and making sure we’re mitigating the impacts of that development.”