Saying New Canaan’s rates lag other towns and haven’t been upped in years, officials are recommending that the town raise its fees for those seeking to pay money into a parking fund in lieu of providing the required number of spaces for commercial construction projects.
A committee of the Planning & Zoning Commission proposed at its most recent meeting that the baseline fee for the first “fee-in-lieu” space go up from $17,500 to $20,000, with increases in other categories to follow.
“We have seen some resistance at $17,500 but I think it would not seem unreasonable to me to bump it a little bit this year,” Jean Grzelecki of the Plan of Conservation & Development Implementation Committee said at the group’s most recent meeting, held Nov. 28 at Town Hall.
Going to $20,000 “seems pretty reasonable,” she said.
The New Canaan Zoning Regulations (see page 121) lay out the minimum number of parking spaces (and loading spaces) required for businesses, and that figure is tied to type and intensity of use—for example, a bank must have one space per 200 square feet of floor area on the street-level floor (or closest to it), while a nursing home must have one space per five beds and at least one space per two employees.
P&Z by special permit may reduce that required parking by up to 40 percent, depending on the specific zone, or by a two-thirds vote may allow for a permanent reduction if an applicant pays a certain amount of money. Monies collected through the “fee-in-lieu” of required parking spaces—allowed under state law—are to go toward a fund used for acquiring, developing, expanding or repairing parking facilities, under the regulations.
In New Canaan, as the regulations now are written, an applicant pays $17,500 for one space, which may be reduced to $15,000 or $12,500 if the attendant project achieves certain environmental certification ratings. Additional fee-in-lieu spaces cost $10,000 per space, under the town’s zoning regulations, and that rate also applies when someone changes the use of a commercial property so that it now is subject to a higher parking requirement.
The regulations require that P&Z prior to granting a fee-in-lieu permit must be assured that the parking spaces that would be required cannot be located on the land in question and that removing the requirement “will not detract from the village feel and quality of life in the downtown.”
New Canaan’s off-street parking authority, the Parking Commission, long has said that the fee-in-lieu system is detrimental to the town.
In its recent annual report, the commission said that fee-in-lieu “virtually gives away substantial value in required off-street parking to private interests.”
“The program should be abandoned or the rates raised to $45,000 per waived parking space—note that $45,000 reflects the estimated cost of the Locust Lot tiering ($4 million) over the incremental parking spaces (roughly 89), plus it is consistent with the ‘MTC Smart Growth Technical Assistance: Parking Structure Technical Report’ prepared for the San Francisco Bay Area in June 2012 which prices each parking space at $45,000 for documentation of this value,” the commission said in its report.
It continues: “If the fee-in-lieu of parking program is retained, we recommend that the Planning and Zoning Commission prepare and present an annual public report on the number of required parking spaces that they have waived without compensation or in exchange for a contribution to the Parking Fund.”
Right now, that fund stands at about $525,000, Grzelecki said, thanks mainly to a major contribution from Stamford Hospital when it opened medical group offices on Grove Street.
The committee is also recommending that P&Z raise the lowest fee for those with LEED Gold Certification from $12,500 to $15,000, and to raise both the additional parking space (after the first) and “change of use” fee-in-lieu rate to the same number.
Grzelecki warned that “if this [re-assessing fees] is something we do annually, then the bumps have to be reasonable.”
Cristina A. Ross, a guest at the meeting, suggested that the commission review its fee-in-lieu rate structure annually “so when you pay for parking it is not ‘in perpetuity,’ which is the way it is now.”
Grzelecki asked interim Town Planner Keisha Fink to find out what other towns do regarding review of fee-in-lieu rates.
The full P&Z Commission has yet to take up the recommendations.