Parking Issues

To the Editor,

I’m glad to see some attention brought to parking in Red Lodge. The newly proposed zoning regulations devote many pages to the issue. However, it should be noted that the entire central business district (zone C4) is exempted from the new parking requirements. Zone C4 includes most of Broadway between 5th and 15th, as well as a few other parcels. My comments at the Public Hearing Aug. 12 had nothing whatsoever to do with parking in C4, the city area most of our visitors frequent.

My concerns addressed new parking standards in all other city zones. The proposed ordinance introduces some positive and innovative solutions for parking in these other areas: landscaping requirements, shared parking arrangements, required bicycle parking, and a setaside snow storage area. I did not take issue with any of those provisions.

My concerns were with the specific numbers of parking spaces required for certain uses outside of downtown, for example, retail and general professional offices. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), a respected and standard source for parking recommendations, showed average peak parking demands significantly lower than what the proposed ordinance requires. When I was told that Red Lodge was using higher numbers because they were a tourist/resort destination, I secured parking space requirements for Whitefish, Montana, a tourist/resort destination with many similarities to Red Lodge. Whitefish requirements for those same uses are similar to the ITE parking numbers, and likewise, significantly lower than the minimum requirements in the proposed Red Lodge ordinance.

I questioned the proposed parking requirements for business or trade schools: one space for each staff member and student. My comments were dismissed. Checking later, I found Whitefish, Montana, requires only one parking space for each 25 students and one for each employee. Due to the high cost of parking spaces and the amount of additional land such spaces require, I am deeply concerned Red Lodge could miss out on quality developments because our excessive parking requirements would make it less expensive for them to locate elsewhere. Such developments would provide quality jobs and more business for our current merchants, while not duplicating goods and services already being provided in our local economy.

Required parking is not free. When excess parking is added to the cost of development, it is passed on to the consumer through the costs of goods and services.

If excess parking costs push development outside the city limits, tax benefits are lost and jobs are further away. Additional space allocated to excess parking makes businesses further apart, thus discouraging walking, and the wide expanses of pavement take away from the unique character of Red Lodge. Once customers get into their cars, they are far less likely to frequent our downtown businesses.

The second reading of the proposed zoning ordinance will be at the City Council meeting of Aug. 26. I am hopeful that our elected representatives will carefully consider these concerns and act in the best interests of our beautiful town.

Susan Foisy

Red Lodge