ST. PETE BEACH — While some cities in the county are counting pennies looking for ways to build parking garages and buy land for parking lots, St. Pete Beach commissioners were recently advised that “traditional policies assume parking should be abundant and free, but recent research indicates that too much parking can be harmful to communities.”

Community Development Director Michelle Gonzalez told city commissioners staff has been working on an off-street parking study, which included input from local and national experts that concluded an “oversupply of parking takes a large chunk of land out of productive use and creates an urban design catered to motor vehicles and not people; cities become less walkable and eco-friendly.”

Parking requirements really came about in the 1940s, as cars became more popular, she explained. “Today, it’s believed parking requirements are making cities focus more on cars rather than people; they are barriers to walkability, bikeability, and are not eco-friendly,” Gonzalez said.

The city’s parking requirements have not been updated since 2005 and many changes in technology and consumer behavior have impacted demand for parking. This has led the city to review its off-street parking code to reevaluate current requirements in the Land Development Code, she said.

During a Dec. 14 city commission meeting, City Manager Alex Rey explained the city hired a consultant about seven months ago to look at off-street parking requirements.

He said the consultant considered what calculations and benchmarks the city should be using to determine the amount of spaces needed and how businesses could be motivated or incentivized to encourage walkability, particularly in the Gulf Boulevard core.

“This is a preliminary discussion with the commission,” Rey advised. “Whatever direction you give us, we’ll begin drafting an ordinance that you will probably be seeing in the January-February time frame to modify the city parking requirements.

“We are being fairly progressive, but not really in the extreme end in terms of what cities are doing,” he said. “There are some cities that are completely eliminating parking requirements, saying, ‘Let the businesses figure out what is good for business.’ We are not going in that direction. We are trying to create incentives to have the kind of city we would like to have.”

The city manager said the “big parking lots that we see on Gulf Boulevard are (not) attractive, not good for the environment and not good for business either. But we do need to have the right numbers, so that’s what we are trying to get to.”

Gonzalez said that according to the study, too many parking spaces can negatively affect cities’ bottom lines. Parking earns only 7 to 42 percent of the tax revenue earned by other uses, she said. In addition, impermeable parking surfaces increase runoff, strain stormwater systems, and increase infrastructure maintenance costs.

The city wants to update off-street parking requirements to promote a more pedestrian-friendly vision and improve overall aesthetics while maintaining a balanced parking supply, Gonzalez told commissioners.

“The focus of the study is how can we maintain a healthy parking supply in the city, while also advocating for more walkability, more greenspace, and helping to really change and evolve the city into what we all desire in our strategic plan,” she said.

As an example of how parking requirements may have changed, she said grocery stores don’t necessarily need the amount of spaces they used to because many consumers regularly rely on home delivery services.

City staff is working to meet additional parking needs and address issues and inconsistencies.

For example, currently businesses in Pass-a-Grille do not have to meet any on-street parking requirements, even if they expand or change use. On the other hand, while businesses on Corey Avenue also do not have on-street parking requirements, they do have to provide additional spaces if they expand or change use.

Rey noted the Dolphin Village shopping center’s parking lot is always 50 percent empty. “It is a horrible view from the street side, because all you see is basically an empty parking lot that has overbuilt parking capacity.”

Gonzalez said the lot is huge, because they had to meet minimum parking requirments. “Then you have this empty lot that’s not being utilized,” she said.

One change being considered is to allow shared use of parking spaces if businesses operate at different times.

In another example, Rey said the city has to factor in how many customers may order from Uber Eats or other services, rather than requiring a parking space to get food. “We need to get current with the times, so we don’t have real estate that is unsightly and wasted,” the city manager added.

City staff would also like to expand the requirement to allow businesses to share their parking lots with the city for beach parking; the city will also expand its shared agreements with various businesses that have parking areas not used weekends, at night or at other times.

In another proposal, businesses on Gulf Boulevard from 75th to 35th avenues will be able to apply for parking credits based on walkability.

The city could also offer parking credits for development and new businesses situated near a substantial amount of on-street parking, as well as to provide parking credits for bicycle, motorcycle, or golf cart spaces.

City Attorney Andrew Dickman said that most cities have adopted auto-oriented zoning codes. “My experience, over time, has been that as society has changed, our norms have changed. What city codes have had to do is sort of lean towards more flexibility, to be innovative and look to other solutions.”

Gonzalez told commissioners the city is looking at giving a 10 percent parking requirement reduction on any new development located along Gulf Boulevard or Blind Pass to promote walkability. In addition, current city code allows developments with 50 or more parking spaces to designate 25 percent of spaces for compact-car parking. Staff is suggesting changes that would allow 35 percent of spaces to be used for golf cart, motorcycle or a compact space. The current parking code prohibits tandem parking. Staff recommends changing the requirement to permit tandem parking with a valet parking plan.

“There’s a whole program,” she said. “We’re really looking at tackling parking with the existing infrastructure. In the scheme of things it’s not going to be like we’re telling you’re not going to have to provide parking; then again, there are minimums. We are a small city … land is expensive here, and it’s going to continue to be.”

She said the city “doesn’t want to have an issue where its parking requirements are so excessive that a development can’t happen or a change of use can’t happen, because now they have to provide additional parking but they can’t afford to acquire new land. It’s a delicate balance.”