Pavement, pavement everywhere, but nary a place to park?
A discussion on the Missoula Parking Commission’s annual budget expanded Wednesday to the city’s greater parking challenges, and what steps may be needed in the months and years ahead to resolve them.
Rod Austin, director of the parking commission, told members of the Missoula City Council’s Budget Committee that demand for leased parking in the downtown district was stronger than what’s currently available, though his department lacks the funding to add more spots.
As it stands, Austin said, the Central Business District could use an additional 650 leased parking spaces – a figure that’s expected to increase as new development finds its way downtown.
“While our revenues are doing well, we’re years away from accumulating enough cash and bonding capacity to do another project that’s going to be needed much sooner than that,” said Austin. “It’s great for downtown Missoula, but in the not-too-distant future, the parking conundrum is going to be there waiting for us.”
Ward 4 council member John DiBari suggested it was time for the city and the board of directors at the Missoula Parking Commission to address parking in the downtown district and how it relates to new construction.
The new Stockman Bank building, which is currently under construction, includes a 140-stall parking garage. Other projects, however, have come with no additional parking, since it’s not required with new construction in the Central Business District.
“There’s no parking requirement for development in the CBD, but of course there’s an impact to parking,” DiBari said. “It would behoove us to think strategically about how there’s a contribution made to future parking projects through new development that’s happening downtown.”
Several council members also expressed concern with parking pressure on the University District Neighborhood. Several years ago, Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler said, residents along Daily Street asked the city to expand the university’s resident parking district further west.
While that initial discussion went nowhere, Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones said the issue – and the frustrations – have not faded away.
“People in the two-block perimeter outside the residential parking program – at least some of them – are very unhappy and frankly have no off-street parking access outside their house in large swaths of the year,” said Jones.
She added that it makes it difficult for property owners in the district to invite friends over, host family members, or receive large deliveries or repairs. Missoula isn’t the only town with a large university surrounded by a residential area, she said, and unique solutions could be found.
“There are residents out there trying to save a parking spot the night before,” Jones said. “There are houses out there with no off-street parking.”
Austin said early conversations have already begun, and his agency may be looking at expanding residential parking districts to other parts of town, including Front Street, the Hip Strip and areas around Spruce.
At the same time, Austin said, doing so is controversial.
“It’s not all just about a resident being able to park fairly close to their home,” he said. “Students should have some of that access to the right of way. It’s public right of way.”
DiBari agreed, saying he wouldn’t likely support an expanded residential parking district, even around the university, largely due to equity issues.
“Anyone in the city can park in front of my house, but I can’t park in the University District for most of the year,” DiBari said. “There’s an equity issue with that, and I know there’s an equity issue for folks in that neighborhood when students park in front of their house all the time. We have to think of a different way of solving this problem.”
Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins suggested it was time for the city to pressure the University of Montana to help solve the problem. That pressure could expand to area churches, businesses and the Missoula County Public Schools District, particularly Hellgate High School.
“It’s time to put some serious discussion to the university to provide more parking for their students,” Wilkins said. “It’s very upsetting when you buy a parking permit over there and can’t find a place to park. I think the city needs to start pounding the desk on that one.”