City code changing

Construction workers frame a house Oct. 14 in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Department is proposing to lower parking requirements for residential and commercial property owners. That could mean future home driveways won’t need to be as big. Business parking lots might be smaller, too.

The change would be part of the city’s massive rewrite of Title 10, the portion of city code that guides development. In a Wednesday meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission tackled parking.

The current rules require homeowners and businesses to build more parking than necessary, Planning and Zoning staff said, which leads to unnecessary costs. Property owners would still be able to build as much parking as they want, but the mandates would decrease.

If adopted, the code changes would allow more tandem parking for residential properties. Tandem parking is when one car blocks in another. In single family homes with their own driveways, tandem parking often isn’t an issue, Planning and Zoning Director Jonathan Spendlove said.

Reducing the amount of required residential parking will save property owners a lot of money. For instance, Spendlove said it costs about $8,000 to pour one concrete parking spot.

“I think it would help with the costs,” Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ryan Higley said.

Spendlove said reducing parking requirements will ease burdens on homeowners and new businesses.

In addition to saving homeowners and developers money, there are a handful of other reasons to lower minimum parking requirements, Spendlove said.

For one, parking space brings less value to the city — a new building has greater taxable value than a parking lot.

“Parking is really not a good generator of tax revenue,” Spendlove said. He added that parking is “expensive to build and the return on investment isn’t that great.”

Smaller driveways and parking lots could also benefit farming.

The city’s comprehensive plan places an emphasis on preserving agricultural lands. Twin Falls’ city planners say the best way to achieve that goal is to build taller buildings within the existing city limits. Making it easier for developers to build in the heart of the city will incentivize infill, and potentially reduce development’s encroachment into farmland.

Asphalt causes issues for drainage, too. Unlike natural landscapes, concrete and pavement don’t absorb any water. Cities spend lots of money handling storm water, so cutting down on parking would cut costs.

Spendlove also explained that there’s an excess of parking throughout America, including Idaho. Nationwide there are a third more parking spots than cars, he said.

On top of that, it’s likely that parking needs could decline in the future as ride-sharing services become more popular. And, if the city’s population eclipses the 50,000 plateau in the next census, Twin Falls will have to start studying public transportation in earnest as well, which could have an impact on parking patterns.

“We don’t need the parking that we’ve needed in the past,” Higley said.

Under the proposed changes, downtown Twin Falls properties — from Blue Lakes across to Washington and Addison to Rock Creek — would have no off-street parking requirement. Right now only Main Avenue and the Second avenues fall into that category.

Planning and Zoning staff are also proposing a change to shared parking. Businesses with shared parking lots would be able to build fewer spots.

It’s hard to know how much of an impact the proposed changes could have if adopted. Many businesses, especially national chains, would probably continue to overbuild parking, Spendlove said. But local businesses and homeowners would probably decide to build less parking and save thousands.

Spendlove said he knows that people are passionate about parking and that the proposed changes might not be popular. But it’s the right move as the city grows, he said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will continue to discuss proposed Title 10 changes in the coming months. The city hopes to adopt the new rules by the end of 2020.

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