It’s a Summer Saturday and you’re looking for a parking spot in Woodstock. There’s lots of businesses and restaurants up and down the hamlet’s main streets. There must be something, right?
“You have to remember,” soon-to-retire Woodstock Planning Board Secretary Therese Fernandez says during a long discussion about some of the finer points of the town’s 28-year old payments-in-lieu-of-parking system, “that they’re virtual parking spots. They don’t really exist.”
But are there enough spaces, given the town’s two lots on Rock City Road, the rambling space accessible behind Tinker Street, the Comeau property’s lower (and upper) lots, and various other private or quasi-public spaces around Woodstock?
“We may have calculated how many spaces we had at one time but for now we have no idea,” Fernandez answers, matter-of-factly. “All we know is we don’t have enough.”
The subject of Woodstock parking is covered in the town’s 1989 zoning law in section 260-30 under the heading, “Parking and loading standards.” There’s a formula for how many parking spots various uses need, and should provide either virtually or in real life.
“In all districts, at the time any new building or structure is erected, any existing building or structure is enlarged, a new or changed use of either land or structure is established, or a subdivision is completed, off-street parking and loading space shall be provided in accordance with the minimum standards set forth,” reads the section.
For residential use, single-family dwellings require two spaces, and for multi-family dwellings two spaces per unit are needed (or one space per bedroom in boarding or rooming houses). Places of assembly need one space for every four seats or 50 square feet of possible seating area. Cultural facilities, including the library, require one space for each 400 square feet of gross floor area plus one space for each employee, while a convalescent or nursing home needs one space for each two beds. Bed and breakfasts, which Fernandez said incorporate most short term Airbnb rentals in town at this point, require one space per rented room. Retail businesses, stores and/or service shops need one space per 200 square feet of floor area used to display or sell merchandise or provide a service, plus one space per employee. Hotels and motels, like rooming houses, require one space per bedroom plus necessary spaces for employees.
There are requirements for funeral homes, doctors offices and possible hospitals, bowling alleys and sports facilities…as well as for “eating and drinking establishments” that call for one space per three seats or 50 square feet of floor space available to patrons, whichever is greater, and whether inside or out. Furthermore, mixed uses call for a sum of whatever requirements individual uses might add up to.
Further clauses delineate design for parking spaces, public and private, ADA requirements, loading berths and an entire section on “cash payment in lieu of on-site provision of required off-street parking spaces” affecting sites within the town’s hamlet commercial and hamlet residential districts.
“In those instances where the Planning Board has determined that parking cannot be sufficiently and/or safely accommodated on site, provision of the minimum required number of off-street parking spaces…may be alternatively satisfied for any commercial use, whether permitted by right or by special use permit, by payment to a special Town Parking Fund of an initial charge followed by an annual maintenance fee per parking space required but not provided on site,” that area of law reads. “Said Town Parking Fund shall be used exclusively by the Town Board for the development and subsequent maintenance of municipal parking spaces to service the needs of the affected properties and zoning districts…The amount of said initial charge and annual fee per parking space alternatively provided shall be in accordance with the fee schedule established and annually reviewed by the Town Board.”
Fun stuff, eh? But remember how a certain Queens, NY politician Donald Manes was once undone, dramatically and fatally, by parking?
Former planning board chairman and continuing long-term member Paul Shultis noted recently that as far as he’s concerned, what’s needed at present is a moratorium on any further payments-in-lieu-of-parking agreements until the town’s current parking situation, including its number of “virtual” spots and actual need, can be assessed and analyzed.
“We don’t have any idea how many parking spots we own,” Shultis said. “At a recent meeting we gave out 20 for a new wine bar going in at Jerry Wapner’s old office on Mill Hill Road, talked about others at the old Joyous Lake. It’s a last resort being overused as a first alternative. To me this whole parking thing has gotten out of control.”
Woodstock supervisor Bill McKenna, a former town zoning board of appeals member, spoke about how he’s been in discussions with two town board members — Richard Heppner and Jay Wenk — about taking advantage of a recent situation where a car whacked one of the stone piers at the entrance to the town’s Comeau Property as an opportunity to start making future parking moves. “We’re looking into moving the pier and stone wall there back four feet, then putting in a crosswalk and a sidewalk,” McKenna said. “Hopefully that will get people parking up on the lots there more. Maybe we can put some advertising up, too. And we’re beginning to look into expanding the lower lot up there, as well…”
McKenna referenced a listing of town parking spots that Fernandez had put together a year or two before and said he’d look for it in his email. He then suggested that he be given a series of questions about the parking situation in Woodstock so he and others working with the town could answer them.
In answering those questions, the supervisor noted that all funds from in-lieu-of-parking agreements go directly into “a dedicated fund that can only be spent on maintaining, improving and extending our public parking.” He recalled use of funds for “the lot off Tannery Brook Road and some blacktopping at the Community Center” on Rock City Road, and added that funds may also be used for some blacktopping and delineation of handicapped spaces at the Mountainview Lot.
“The town has the ability to have a yearly maintenance fee but we’ve had no discussion of that,” McKenna added.
Planning Board secretary Fernandez filled in details of the town’s parking policies that she could. In-lieu-of fees were one time only, she said, upped to a level of $900 per space, and $450 for any outdoor seats, last autumn (those amounts, she added, started out at $100 per space 28 years ago). The referred-to annual maintenance fees were still at $0.
“Enforcement occurs in the process of an applicant being referred to the planning board for an action such as site plan review,” she continued. “We look to see if a space has any credits paid for in the past — the Joyous Lake, say, had all its needed spaces paid for over the years; each instance is unique. Changes in use from retail or residential to a restaurant, say, always carry some paid-for spaces. In the final round, everyone has to have parking, or pay for parking, by the time the planning board signs off on their review process.”
Fernandez added that people could also ask for an installment schedule, while adding that such things were only okayed, and enforced, by the town board.
As for the amounts of money raised to date by the town’s parking fund, and how it’s been spent, the planning board secretary added that the town board, and McKenna, would do better trying to answer that.
“A number of years ago we lowered the amount per space to spur economic development, from $700 back down to $100,” McKenna said. “When we raised it back to $900 we figured it was a ballpark figure similar to the cost for a parking space.”
“I take it there’s money for new parking,” Fernandez added. “But you need the land first to do anything. That’s where the problem lies.”
Town bookkeeper Pam Boyle later noted that the dedicated parking fund current has $21,730.49, with its last noted withdrawal being $20,000 for the Upper Comeau parking lot in 2011.
Top issue in town
Shultis reiterated his thoughts about parking being the town’s number one issue, and something that made Woodstock’s long struggle to upgrade its comprehensive plan more urgent. He brought up situations, such as at the Woodstock Playhouse, where no parking was required as a way of helping the once-outdoor venue get on its feet, or the amounts paid by an entity like that wine bar — $15,000 — looking odd next to the new restaurant at the Joyous Lake’s not having to pay anything.
“The amounts people are paying are not enough. The actual cost of making a new parking space is closer to $2000 per space, and that’s if there is land,” Shultis added. “Each night we okay 20 more cars to the traffic problem we already have here demonstrates a lack of good planning. We have to get a grip on what we’re doing.”
Shultis added how he and other planning board members hear regularly from architects about parking problems in other towns, from Kingston to New Paltz, from Rhinebeck to Hudson. In every town, he adds. Maybe the idea of a shuttle bus moving around Woodstock, as McKenna and current planning board chairman John LaValle proposed in an earlier article in this series, is a viable idea. But that, too, would involve new parking to shuttle to and from, somewhere.
“Right now there’s no one in front of us at the planning board,” Shultis reiterated, noting a surfeit in new retail and restaurant projects…for the moment. “It really could be a good time to study this issue for real.”