City approves changes to parking requirements for big box developments
by Laura Haley
contributing writer
Jun 21, 2012 | 2074 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Large-scale retail developments in Moab will have a few more options for parking design after the Moab City Council voted unanimously on June 12 to amend the city’s ordinance governing big box retail developments.

The new regulations will allow developers to locate up to 70 percent of parking spaces in the front of large-scale developments as long as additional requirements for landscaping and screening of parking areas are met, said Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart. The original ordinance, passed in 2008, allowed only 30 percent of the parking spaces to be located in the front of the building and required the remaining 70 percent to be located on the sides and in the rear of the building, Reinhart said.

The Moab City Planning Commission began looking at possible changes to the parking requirements after the city was approached in 2009 by representatives of Diversified Partners LLC, an Arizona-based development company that has a contract for possible development of a 38-acre parcel of land located on the west side of U.S. 191 south of Moab near Mill Creek Drive. That property, currently owned by the Stroble Trust, is situated near the area where Utah State University plans to build a destination campus and was part of several parcels of land that were recently annexed into the Moab city limits.

In 2009, representatives from Diversified Partners told city officials that requiring the majority of parking on the sides and in the rear of the building would deter large-scale retail developments in Moab.

Reinhart told the council last week that he had talked with several developers to get their views about the parking requirements.

“They said it was about time somebody took this approach... rather than a hard and fast, you can only have 30 percent in front and 70 percent has to be around the rear and sides, ” he said.

Reinhart said that the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration has also been in talks with an interested developer. He said SITLA officials told him they also supported the new ordinance.

“They said that they were very excited that this was being presented this way, because then they could have trade-offs in the development of the property.”

In an interview with The Times-Independent, Reinhart said the changes “were prompted because we had other developers who looked at the requirements and said this is not very realistic.”

He said no plans for large-scale developments have been submitted to the city. He said the changes would also apply to other properties in C-4 zones within city limits.

“We have no applications and there have been no site plans submitted,” Reinhart said. “I do think there’s still a lot of interest.”

To add more parking at the front of the buildings under the new ordinance, the plan must include one tree for every three parking spaces, as well as bioretention cells to help significantly reduce water runoff. Provisions to protect pedestrian safety and retain the pedestrian-friendly environment near the developments are also included in the ordinance, along with measures to encourage environmentally friendly roof structures, Reihnart said.

He said the previous ordinance didn’t provide options to the developer or the city. The new ordinance changes that, he said.

“This addresses parking, it addresses pedestrian safety, storm water control, all the things that we look at when we think of the parking area,” Reinhart said. “This ordinance would allow more front parking if additional landscaping and screening of the parking areas is provided.”

Several council members had originally balked at the changes when the ordinance was brought before them on April 24. Because of concerns that the ordinance was too restrictive and would push developers away from Moab, council members voted to table the issue so that they could consider it more in depth.

During the April meeting, council member Gregg Stucki said that he felt the regulations were too strict. “One of the reasons that the big box thing [failed] was because it was overly regulatory,” he said. “This has a requirement that 50 percent of the parking area be shaded and that there is one tree for every three parking spaces. We don’t have anything close to that currently.”

Council member Doug McElhaney also voiced concerns, stating that City Market’s parking lot would require an additional 50 trees in order to meet the new regulations.

“The way the large scale retail [ordinance is worded] right now, a parking lot can’t be placed at the front of the building,” Moab City Planning Commission chairwoman Kelly Thornton told the council on June 12. She said developers who might otherwise be interested in building in Moab might be unable to build due to that regulation.

“We wanted to try to keep the spirit of that ordinance in place... and balance that with the ability to potentially bring in some retail,” she said.

Robert Mayhew, a partner with Diversified Partners, said that prior to the change, retailers wouldn’t even consider building on the property because the way the code was written was not conducive to retailers.

“I don’t know how many times you’ve had to park in the back of a store and walk around to the front to go in,” he said.

He said the new regulations make the parking distribution much more “appropriate,” while increasing the aesthetics of the parking lot.

Ralph Stroble, a former Moab resident and one of the property owners, said he first began working with the firm in 2002 and the property has been under contract with Diversified Partners for three years.

“Nothing is written in stone at this point,” Stroble said. “To my knowledge there’s nothing new.”

Mayhew said that the new parking ordinance could make it easier to attract a retailer, but his firm is still considering options and will give his firm an opportunity to move forward and more closely consider what type of retailer would best serve the small market that Moab represents.

“We’ve been spending some time figuring out what will be appropriate going forward,” Mayhew said. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the market. We don’t want to duplicate anything. We want to make sure that it’s an area that’s not already being met.”

Moab City Manager Donna Metzler told the council at the June 12 meeting that the regulations benefit the developer as well as the city. “The development would be more lucrative having this additional option for the parking configuration. Compared to the additional cost of the trees it was basically not even close to a trade-off,” she said.

Reinhart cited data from a 1995 study that showed that additional shade in parking lots can result in extra revenue.

“The fact is that if there are more trees, people will park under them,” he said. “They do tend to stay longer in those areas that are landscaped and spend more money.”

“I wholly support this,” Mayor Dave Sakrison said. “I think this is a great idea. Any developer worth his salt is going to take a look at this and say, ‘Yeah, this makes sense,’ especially in a 100-degree climate.”

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