City planners are drafting an ordinance that would allow developers to pay up to $10,000 in place of each parking space that they would otherwise have to provide.
The proposed fees, which the Juneau Assembly may consider this spring, would go into a dedicated account for new parking or alternative transportation to reduce parking demand downtown, said Ben Lyman, planner with Juneau's Community Development Department. Under the proposal, the cost per parking spot may be $10,000 or less, he said
"The money would be used for developing or improving downtown parking" Lyman said. "This will free up industrial land and put money in the coffer to help develop the voter-approved parking structure the public can use."
The city currently requires banks, businesses and professional offices with on-site customer service to provide one parking space per 200 square feet.
In October voters approved use of the city's optional 1 percent sales tax to extend city sewers and build a downtown parking garage, which will most likely be completed in 2008, Lyman said. Some people downtown believe the relief is needed now.
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"Parking is terrible," said Tristan Jones, who works at the Jewel Box at Front Street. "They need to do something about parking here, because whenever people are downtown they cannot find parking and in front of businesses there is a time limit."
The fee in lieu of parking has been discussed by city planners for several years, but had an earlier price tag of $26,000 - too high to attract takers, Lyman said.
It may cost $30,000 to build a space. Under the new proposal developers would not receive a parking space for the fee, though. They simply would be absolved from providing that parking space themselves.
"If developers were charged the full development price, they may demand that a specific space be reserved for their employees and customers rather than the general public," Lyman said. "Also, reducing the cost makes it more attractive for developers to take part in the program."
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In addition to new developers, Lyman said people who already have parking variances downtown would have an opportunity to take part in the program, which would potentially free up valuable industrial land on the rock dump, now encumbered by parking from recent Franklin Street developments. Many downtown businesses provide parking at the Thane Road rock dump and shuttle their employees to work.
Some business owners now must leave their businesses hourly to move their parked cars in front of their stores before being cited.
B.J. Kanouse said the potential ordinance was a good idea. She carefully pulled her sport-utility vehicle out of a tight spot and circled the block in pursuit of a spot.
"It is absolutely horrible there is no good parking," said Kanouse, who owns Viking Lounge & Billiards on Front Street and Gallery of the North on South Franklin Street. "Parking is a major problem."
The potential money collected would go to a "kitty" toward a downtown garage, or transit projects to ease downtown congestion, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. He said the proposed parking structure on Main and Egan will require more money than what it gets from the sales tax.
"Nothing will immediately alleviate the traffic in the central core of town, which was essentially built in the mining days," Sanford said. "But this could be the first baby step to build parking on the peripheral of town, where we could have something like transit buses or shuttles bringing people into town."