Town candidates look for parking solutions
Most like spaces in new garage but question aesthetics of behemoth structure.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: July 9, 2008
Whether circling Town Square looking for a spot, paying a ticket for parking in the wrong place, trying to find a tree to lean a bike against or marveling at the massive new parking garage, Jackson residents and tourists spend a lot of time dealing with parking.
Candidates for Jackson Town Council generally endorsed the town’s 288-space, $11 million parking garage as a necessary evil, but many think the town needs to get more creative when it thinks about regulating parking within Jackson.
John Bickner said he is most concerned that the town will try to put parking meters around the Town Square area, something he said would be disastrous.
“It is the worst thing that could possibly ever happen,” Bickner said. “Our Western character will be destroyed forever by parking meters. Would you tether your horse to a parking meter?”
Bickner said other Western resort towns, such as Park City, Utah, have tried putting in parking meters and ended up tearing them out.
“It is nice to look at how other people tried to do it and see the failures,” he said.
On a host of other parking issues, including accepting fee-in-lieu payments from developers who don’t build parking areas, Bickner said he would have to deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
“There are going to be places and people that are going to buy a small lot, and without ample parking they are going to overflow to their neighbors,” he said. “It should be a case-by-case basis, but I don’t like passing the buck to someone else.”
One thing Bickner thinks is overlooked is appropriate drainage for parking areas to keep trash and chemicals from washing off the pavement and into Flat Creek. Bickner does not like Jackson’s new parking garage, saying he would have preferred to dig a basement level to lower the height.
Kyle Burson said he was not bothered by the height of the new garage but still didn’t like the structure.
“It is just ugly,” he said. “They should have used a different color.”
Burson said he opposed allowing developers to make fee-in-lieu payments instead of building parking. Instead, he said he supported increasing the amount of parking required for commercial and residential projects.
“I think developers should put in more [parking],” he said. “Until we get a train into Jackson, which will probably never happen, people will need to drive.”
Burson would vote in favor of adding parking meters to Jackson’s downtown and putting the income into the town’s general fund.
“They would generate a little bit of income,” he said. “I know they had them in my hometown and always seemed to work good.”
Burson said he thinks the town needs a better plan to accommodate tour bus parking in the summer. Currently, Burson said, some tour buses are idling at START bus stops, clogging the public transportation route.
“They need to put them in the back of a parking area like over by the rec center, and that will be a drop-off point,” he said. “It is only a block to walk, so that could be the drop-off and pickup.
Greg Miles said he thinks Jackson needs parking garages, and he advocates for an additional garage to be built on the Home Ranch parking lot and another one on the edge of town that could function as a park-and-ride station.
“Getting people to leave their cars at home and use public transportation is where we really want to go,” Miles said.
Though he likes the facilities, Miles said he is disappointed that features meant to improve the appearance of the current garage, such as landscaping around the facility and putting an architectural “screen” on one side of it, have not been completed.
“That is the reason why we went with the bare-bones architectural styling, with the idea it would not left as is,” said Miles, who reviewed the project as a member of the Jackson Planning Commission.
Miles supports the addition of parking meters downtown and said the money could be earmarked for START operations or to look at possible sites for a park-and-ride facility.
However, Miles said a larger priority should be closing Deloney Avenue and Center Street along the Town Square to car traffic altogether during the busy summer months.
“The time has come to embrace the downtown area and remove cars,” he said.
Though he supports current fee-in-lieu practices, he also thinks the town should consider lowering its parking requirements.
“We should require the amount of parking we need, but let’s not over-park a project,” he said.
Matt Lee said the town should examine its own parking requirements in light of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which seeks to make buildings that are more environmentally friendly and use less energy.
The town could possibly trade less on-site parking for facilities like adequate bike parking or on-site showers that encourage people to reduce automobile use, said Lee, who is a LEED-certified builder. Other trade-offs that could allow developers to build less parking could include a commitment to buy START bus passes for all employees who commute from areas along an established bus route. In that way, developers could save money and space traditionally used to build parking and the town could achieve its goals of reducing energy use and traffic.
Lee said he was ambivalent about the parking structure, Jackson’s second-tallest building.
“It certainly provides a lot of additional needed parking close to downtown, and from that perspective it seems like a good move,” he said. “But it is not beautiful and I have heard a lot of complaints about the appearance of the structure.”
Lee said he could support adding parking meters around downtown Jackson but would like to the proceeds from the meters earmarked for the construction and maintenance of alternative transportation facilities like START and pathways.
“It will help with some of the abuse of the three-hour [limit] that is going on,” he said. “It is also another way we could pick up some money from tourists – not that I want to fleece them, but they do create a demand for services.”
Louise Lasley, said she supported the construction of the parking garage, but ultimately the town needed to look at people’s means of transportation rather than where they choose to park.
“I think in the end the parking structure will be worth it, because up to that point the solutions we had were ground-level parking lots, and those are full every day,” she said. “We needed to take some other steps to rectify it.”
A shift to transit, biking and walking, however, should probably not be accomplished by cutting the parking requirement for residential buildings, Lasley said.
“I believe it is just wishful thinking that people will assume another means of transportation if they can’t find parking,” she said.
One change Lasley did favor was eliminating density bonuses for underground parking and instead requiring it.
“Maybe we should drop the increased density part and make underground parking more a standard for development,” she said.
Lasley said she thought fee-in-lieu payments for parking were too low, given the almost $11 million price tag for the town’s parking garage.
“I think if [a developer] is going to build something, they need to adequately cover the impacts that development is going to have on the community, whether it is parking or housing or whatever,” she said.
Tommy Wood would like to see parking meters on Town Square collecting quarters for affordable housing.
“People show up to Town Square early to park their cars and are there all day,” he said. “We are not allowing the tourism industry opportunities it would have for more customers.
“I would have to get more information, but my feeling is any extra money we can generate in the community should go to provide housing for the work force.”
Wood said he supports the parking garage as a necessary evil but thought it could have been designed to better reflect the community.
“It would have been in the neighborhood of $2 million more, but it would have helped to keep the sense of town and the eclectic nature of town,” he said. “I do think the staining has helped tremendously.”
He said he thought town parking requirements were appropriate but did not think developers should be allowed to pay a fee in lieu instead of building their required parking.
“As long as there is a fee-in-lieu option available, we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said. “The required parking should be required.”
If the town continues to accept fee-in-lieu payments, he said, those should be set very high to strongly encourage developers to build the parking on site.
Mark Obringer, an incumbent, also said the town needed to look at parking within the larger framework of transportation
“The Town of Jackson to date has done an excellent job of managing its parking inventory,” Obringer said. “As a community, it is important that we look at parking in the context of our multimodal transit system and recognize the concept of Complete Streets.”
Obringer said in his tenure on the council he has presided over the expansion of 30 miles of additional pathways and surging START ridership. As well as encouraging alternative transportation, Obringer said he has helped locate and purchase parking facilities on all four sides and within two blocks of Town Square. Obringer said the council continues to proactively address parking in downtown, including consideration of parking meters, but he did not go so far as to endorse the idea.
“The council, under the direction of the mayor, has created a downtown parking advisory committee,” he said. “One of the tasks of that committee is to come up with a recommendation for the seasonal parking meter program downtown.”
– Candidates Tim Sullivan and Abe Tabatabai could not be reached for comment.