Prospective restaurant owners in Montgomery County soon may have a less thorny zoning code to contend with that includes much lower parking requirements.
New restaurants would only have to build four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet as opposed to 25 spaces, a restriction that may leave some businesses with empty lots and deter new development.
“You have big parking lots at shopping centers with a lot of empty spaces,” said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D- At Large) of Garrett Park, who chairs the committee.
“That’s a foolish use of limited resources,” she said. “And our goal in urban redevelopment is certainly to encourage less driving and more alternative modes of transportation.”
The zoning code update is part of a three-year modernization effort to simplify its language and adjust a few other policies, including taking neighboring priorities into consideration for new and re-development.
Those changes are in the hands of Montgomery County’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.
A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 12, after which the matter will likely go to the full council, said Jeffrey Zyontz, legislative attorney for the County Council.
One aspect of the policy remains the same. Building owners may pay a fee rather than provide parking if they are in one of Montgomery’s parking districts: Bethesda, North Bethesda, Wheaton, Silver Spring or Montgomery Hills.
New restaurants in mixed-use buildings have even lower requirements, Zyontz said.
Restaurants can choose to supply as much parking as they want because there is no maximum.
The policy will only apply to new structures, Zyontz added.
“An old restaurant would just have too much parking. A tragedy,” he said. “But surface parking in some places really isn’t a good thing if you want people to walk around in that environment.”
Several groups, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, Coalition for Smarter Growth and Action Committee for Transit applauded the proposed lower requirements but said they don’t go far enough in shifting focus away from cars.
The county’s urban pockets will still have ample parking if the council does away with any minimums, said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“There’s a lot of parking available and a lot of parking sitting empty because it’s not available to a certain type of user at a certain time of day,” Cort said. “It needs to be managed more effectively and lot of these zoning requirements are producing too much parking and subsidizing driving and car ownership.”
Restaurants and the building owners they rent from would still provide spaces if it was in their best interest, said Ethan Goffman, transit chairman of the Montgomery County Sierra Club.
“You don’t want to distort the market to encourage more driving and more parking,” he said. “We want to move away from a jump-in-the-car oriented society.”
Outside the fold of parking districts, new businesses shouldn’t see much impact from the new policy, said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.