Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Duncan promotes ‘parking districts’ in Prince George’s

Former Montgomery county executive says districts could cure parking woes, promote business

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Former Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan says the creation of parking lot districts similar to those in the county he once headed could foster development, improve business performance and cure parking woes in Prince George’s County.

Duncan, now vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park, said such parking infrastructure could help establish downtown districts and generate commuter and pedestrian traffic. Each of the districts could contain surface parking lots, garages and on-the-street parking located in the public right of way.

‘‘Prince George’s County could create parking districts like we did in Montgomery County, which would make it easier and better for people to park especially around those Metro stations,” Duncan said during a Feb. 2 meeting with The Gazette editorial board. ‘‘That would help foster redevelopment.”

To meet the parking needs of the central business corridors in Montgomery County, four parking districts were created in Bethesda, Montgomery Hills, Silver Spring and Wheaton.

The districts allow cars to pay on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis close to or within the urban district. The Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation manages the funds and facilities within the districts.

‘‘Property owners have been relieved of building any code-related parking within the district,” said Rick Siebert, parking operations chief of Montgomery County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation. ‘‘Typically our garages and parking lots are spread across the PLD so they can be shared and centrally used by multiple buildings.”

The districts were created in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

‘‘It was visionary urban planning,” Siebert said. ‘‘It was understood that the first one in Silver Spring would encompass an area that would become increasingly urbanized. Business would thrive if there was adequate parking to be able to visit the businesses.”

Prince George’s County Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville said the council met with Duncan last year and briefly discussed parking districts.

‘‘We asked him what ideas we could borrow from him, particularly in the Route 1 district,” Campos said. ‘‘If there’s anyone to borrow ideas from, it’s Doug Duncan.”

Campos said the parking districts are an idea he would be interested in pursuing.

‘‘For my Route 1 corridor to work, it needs parking,” Campos said. ‘‘You can’t have our downtown like we want to in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier if we cannot provide sufficient parking for the people. It will just not work.”

A common issue for business owners and customers is the lack of available parking along Route 1, Campos said.

‘‘You shouldn’t have to go and park in the neighborhood to go to a store on the main corridor,” he said. ‘‘It inconveniences you as a customer or business owner. We need some form of structured parking.”

In Montgomery County, parking districts used land donated by property owners, and money came from the county’s general fund and the districts after they started.

‘‘The idea was that property owners would pay an annual tax based on the valuation of the real property and these tax monies would be pooled by the county and we would build shared parking facilities,” Siebert said.

Silver Spring’s Wayne Avenue garage is the largest with about 1,500 spaces and six stories. Siebert said the county has 18 parking garages in the four districts, 20 surface lots and 8,000 on-street spaces.

Siebert said costs for a garage currently proposed in Bethesda would be about $60 million for 1,150 spaces.

As the main operator for the system, Siebert said he has heard complaints from users, largely involving signage issues and customer service, but none about the district setup itself.

PLDs have three primary sources of revenue: parking tax, fees collected from cashiers in garages⁄parking meters and fines from people who violate the regulations.

‘‘Overall, the district generally makes a profit,” Siebert said. Surpluses are either saved for additional facilities to be built or are transferred to the county’s mass transit or urban districts funds, to be used for sidewalk and lighting enhancements.

In College Park, the City Council is in the midst of planning for the creation of a 300-space garage — not considered a parking district — to relieve some of the traffic in its downtown district. The city will be paying for the $8 million project.

‘‘There’s a well documented shortage of parking spaces in the downtown area,” said city planning director Terry Schum. ‘‘Many businesses have been here a long time and they don’t provide any specific parking for their businesses.”

The city-run, five-level garage would be located at the corner of Knox Road and Yale Avenue and should open by 2010, said College Park City Councilman Mark Cook (Dist. 3).

Hyattsville Mayor William Gardiner said the city is working with the Hyattsville Community Development Corp., Campos’ office and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to jointly finance a parking garage feasibility study for the Route 1 area.

‘‘It’s an issue on Route 1, East West Highway and in West Hyattsville,” Gardiner said. ‘‘If we’re going to attract some commercial development, we really need to find ways to finance the required parking.”

Staff writer Deborah Stoudt contributed to this report.