Angela Threadgill is the Planning Director for the City of Decatur, GA. Her town recently lifted its parking minimums for commercial buildings, as well as including some provisions to provide for more bicycle parking. I spoke with Ms. Threadgill along with Lyn Menne, Assistant City Manager for Community and Economic Development in Decatur, earlier this month.
The town of Decatur, GA is almost 200 years old and has a population of 20,000 people. It’s a little over six miles from Atlanta. Angela Threadgill prefaced our conversation by explaining that the town—which is just 4.2 square miles large—has three MARTA transit stations in its city limits. “One of our stations is right in the heart of our downtown,” she said. With that kind of infrastructure already in place, this town was ripe for an elimination of parking minimums.
The city wrote a new community transportation plan in 2007. Angela explained, “At that time, we did a parking survey […and learned that] we had 1200 parking spaces within our downtown area.” A more recent update to that survey found over 2000 parking spaces. “Around that time is when we were starting to look at a form-based code,” Angela told me, “which is now our Unified Development Ordinance,” officially adopted on February 1, 2015.
Removing Parking Minimums
That new ordinance removed parking minimums and instead implemented maximums for most commercial uses. The ordinance also lowered requirements for buildings with other uses. For instance, residential buildings now have a requirement of just one space per unit, as opposed to previous requirements of multiple spaces. “Also, as part of that transportation plan,” Angela said, “we’re starting to implement bike lines and bike parking spaces. For every 20 parking spaces provided, developers must provide one bike space.”
Lyn Menne also added, “I think one of the other important components of [the new plan] is shared parking […] We strongly encourage people to get creative and look at how they could share the parking.” This is especially applicable for houses of worship and other buildings that only have high traffic on certain days of the week. If they are located near restaurants or retail, the city encourages them to try to share their lots.
Now, Decatur has not undergone a complete elimination of parking minimums, but this is serious progress for a downtown that was once dominated by parking.
I asked Angela and Lyn whether they faced any pushback from the community during this process. Angela said initially there was some resistance from developers, but that now, “the developers we’re meeting with understand the direction the city of Decatur is taking in asking for these maximums.” The new plan involved considerable community input. “We had a whole zoning task force made up of many different stakeholders,” said Angela, “including city commissioners, neighborhood residents, and others. The consensus was to limit the number of parking spaces.”
She explained the town’s reasoning: “We would rather have a viable business than a parking lot. A parking lot doesn’t provide a whole lot of tax revenue or street life.”
Angela and Lyn’s advice for other cities thinking about lowing their parking minimums is to make sure communication channels are open and that information is shared with the public. They also felt it was helpful to look at best practices and examples from other cities.
Head over to our Discussion Forum to get ideas and advice for solving parking issues in your community.
(All photos by the City of Decatur)