The City Council will soon face a decision of whether to eliminate the parking requirement for residential developments downtown and decrease the number of required spaces in nearby neighborhoods.
The Planning Commission is considering eliminating the parking requirement for future residential developments in the downtown zone and decreasing the requirement in outlying areas from 1.5 spaces per unit to 1.
The commission plans to discuss the parking requirement for the city’s C-4 Downtown District during its next meeting on March 16. The council would then consider the commission’s final recommendation for approval.
City Planner Christine Primiano is working to redraw the lines of the downtown district to reflect the “core of downtown.”
Some people believe eliminating the requirement for residential parking in downtown is a step in the right direction, while others say the move would create congestion and overflow in nearby neighborhoods.
“It makes a lot of sense to me in terms of a developable downtown,” Council President Leesa Perazzo said. “A parking requirement limits residential development in downtown.”
Perazzo said not everyone who lives in downtown owns cars and instead opt to bike, walk or use public transportation.
She added that there are other options for parking in downtown, like the parking garage, surface parking lots and on-street parking.
“It’s trending that younger people want to live in the downtown of a city and have a walkable city,” she said. “Many people who work downtown walk to work on a daily basis.”
Councilman Vince Riggi said he doesn’t believe Schenectady is a walkable city yet and that residents still have and require cars.
“I don’t know too many people who don’t own cars,” he said. “There is no retail and grocery options in downtown to walk to. People also like the convenience of jumping in their cars.”
Riggi said he doesn’t think there are enough parking spaces in downtown now and that he's concerned with cutting the parking requirement in downtown altogether.
“I certainly don’t want to see pressure put on street parking in the adjoining neighborhoods, like Front Street and the Stockade,” he said. “I don't think people will like that very much. I don’t blame people for not wanting to walk either. We're not exactly the safest city.”
During a meeting last week, the Planning Commission proposed that the parking requirement in outlying areas of the downtown district be decreased from 1.5 spaces to 1.
Perazzo said she is concerned about decreasing the requirement for spaces in residential areas in close proximity to downtown.
“We need to hear from the residents of those areas to see whether they anticipate challenges from that,” she said. “I think we need to look at those boundaries whenever they come close to a residential area.”
Carmella Ruscitto, president of the East Front Street Neighborhood Association, said fewer spaces would result in more people parking on residential streets where it’s already difficult to find spots.
Ruscitto pointed to David Fusco’s planned 52-unit apartment building at 1419 Erie Blvd., which was approved by the commission last week with 1 space per unit.
She said the four-story building, with a mix of one- and two-bedrooms, would most likely house families with more than one car and lead to more cars parking on nearby Front Street.
“It’s not fair to the neighborhood,” she said. “They are not thinking of the neighborhood anymore. It will really hurt us. We believe in development in this area and I know we need it. But we don’t want to get bombarded by cars.”
Fusco’s proposal was approved by the commission despite currently being in an area that requires 1.5 spaces per unit. If the council does not OK a decrease to 1 space per unit, Fusco would have to find alternatives for parking or get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Ruscitto said the decrease in required spaces would not only affect the Front Street neighborhood but also the nearby Stockade Historic District. Stockade Association President Carol DeLaMarter could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, said decreasing the parking requirement doesn’t mean developers wouldn’t have any.
“Developers know that parking is important to their projects,” he said. “The folks who rent apartments want to be close to their building. I think developers are going to continue to provide parking.”
Gillen noted that the Electric City Apartments slated for State Street and Erie Boulevard in downtown would include an underground parking garage for tenants.
“In a lot of cities now they are getting rid of parking requirements,” he said. “You get rid of the parking minimums and you create landscapes. But parking accommodations could still be made.”
The consideration to get rid of the parking requirement in downtown comes as several residential buildings are currently under construction.
The Electric City Apartments by Highbridge Development of Schenectady and Prime Companies of Cohoes will include 105 luxury apartments, plus 9,900 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
Sequence Development is rehabilitating the historic Foster Building along with several neighboring buildings on State Street, which will include a total of 33 apartment units with office and retail space.
On Broadway, John Luke Hodorowski is constructing a 70,400-square-foot building that will feature 39 upscale apartments with office space on the first floor.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he believes there is adequate parking in downtown but that he would like a system for drivers to more easily find available parking spaces.
McCarthy said he is looking for his newly created Smart City Advisory Commission to create a resource for drivers to know where there are free spaces in downtown closest to their destination.
“The smart cities initiative will give us better utilization and management of our parking resources,” he said. “We have a parking garage, surface lots and a good number of on-street parking spaces. We need to let people know where they are.”
After the Planning Commission makes its recommendation on parking requirements to the City Council, the council will call for a public hearing before voting on the matter.
“I think an important component of this is the public hearing we’ll have,” Perazzo said. “My plan is to do some research on the downtown component. I also want to look at other municipalities and compare with their livable and walkable downtowns.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.