City considering parking code changes March 3 for development projects

City Commissioners will consider code changes to the parking requirements for development during their March 3 meeting.

The proposed changes have been presented in public meetings since December and include reductions in some required minimums for certain land uses; credit for bicycle parking; parking stall dimensions; paving options; and more.

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Staff’s proposed code changes are part of their effort to review the city’s development review process.

The parking rules are contained in Title 17, the land development section, of the city code. The title was first adopted in 2005, as the city’s first comprehensive compilation of provisions relating to development, according to city staff, and has been modified in the years since to keep it relevant or correct errors or omissions in the original title.

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Staff compared the city’s off-street requirements to those of eight difference cities of similar size within the region. Those cities were: Casper, Wyo.; Missoula; Bozeman; Helena; Minot, N.D.; Billings; Rapid City, S.D.; and, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“Generally, Great Falls’ off-street parking requirements were found to be on the lower end of requirements among the various codes that were reviewed, including off-street parking standards from a planning study published by the American Planning Association,” according to the staff report.

City considering changes to parking code, including reducing minimum parking requirements for some land uses

Staff also met with local design professionals; reviewed the city’s growth policy and long range transportation plan; reviewed the parking chapter line by line to cut redundant, unused or outdated provisions and add clarity where necessary; and reformatted the section to match other, recently adopted sections and correct grammatical and wording errors.

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Currently in Great Falls, retail stores are required to have one space per 240 square feet or for retail larger than 5,000 square feet, it’s 20 spaces plus one per 300 square foot in excess of 5,000.

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City staff is proposing to change it to one space per 300 square feet of gross floor area for all retail under 60,000 square feet. They’re also proposing to make a category for retail stores that are larger than 60,000 square feet, which would require 200 parking spaces plus one per 500 square foot in excess of 60,000.

To highlight the impact of the proposed change, Alaina Mattimiro, a new hire in the city planning office, said during a December meeting that the Walmart on 10th Avenue South has 764 parking spaces. Under the proposed code revision, about 170 spaces could have been eliminated.

The code would still allow developers to have 20 percent over the minimum parking requirement if they believe its necessary, Mattimiro said.

“Land development codes aren’t static,” Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner, said during the December work session.

Land development code changes up for consideration tonight

In the downtown area, developers and business owners can ask for a reduction in parking spots already, but staff is proposing to make it a developer choice to provide paring for downtown projects. Finch said staff is hoping that will encourage more developers to reuse buildings downtown and increase usage of existing city and private parking facilities.

Process underway to update city land development code

Staff is also proposing changes to the parking stall dimension requirements, since the city gets a lot of design waivers for those dimensions, Mattimiro said in December.

Staff is proposing a size range to give developers more flexibility.

Changes are also being proposed for off-street parking and allowing it to be in the vicinity of a development if not directly onsite. Currently, the off-street parking that isn’t directly on the development site has to be within 400 feet of the site. Staff is proposing to increase that to 1,000 feet with approval from the planning director.

That doesn’t mean that developers can use other private parking lots in their parking requirements, unless there’s a shared parking agreement in place that meets city requirements.

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said if the parking can’t fit onsite, developers can use adjacent locations and, in the spirit of Get Fit Great Falls, encourage people to walk a bit.

Accessible parking provisions remain, but they are regulated by the building division so the proposed code changes would reflect that, according to staff.

Areas proposed for reduced parking minimums include banks and finance companies; bars, lounges and taverns; exercise facilities and spas; office, business and professional; retail.

Retail was the main area of concern, Mattimiro said and staff received more feedback about big box stores hence the proposal to change the retail requirements based on size.

Staff also proposes adding a category for vehicle sales businesses that would require two parking spaces per service area plus 1.5 per employee.