“Right-Sizing” Parking Lots: Benefits to Developers and Cities

Development Type:         Coffee Shop and Retail In-Fill

Services Provided:            Parking Evaluation

Client:                                 City of Eden Prairie and Sambatek

Parking lots, and their use, have become a key piece for continued development of a city. Specifically, stand-alone big box stores have been in-filling their parking lots with a smaller size development or two to increase the overall appeal of the site and generate additional income.

For many larger stores, City codes or their own internal information can dictate providing lots of parking stalls. This approach does not necessarily match the actual use of the parking lot. The importance of ‘right-sizing’ the parking lot is apparent – too many spaces leads to a sea of unused pavement that could be devoted to other uses, like in-fill developments.

Everyone is likely familiar with one or more sites with a sea of painted spaces that is hardly ever full. Developers and Cities have also noticed these spots and have been willing options to make better use of the area. But it’s very important to understand the use of the existing lot and how an in-fill development will impact that use.

Providing that understanding is how we have helped both cities and developers. For a recent project in the City of Eden Prairie, we worked with both the developer and the City on a proposed in-fill development. The existing site, a large grocery store with some attached retail uses, similarly had a large amount of excess parking ready for redevelopment. Our work consisted of examining the parking from several angles:

-Determine the parking needs based on City code. We used the City code rates to calculate the base requirements for the redevelopment site. In the absence of other information, the City and developer would normally rely upon this information.

-Use the current demand to project future parking demand. Since the existing site contained the big and several other smaller land uses, the existing rate of parking could indicate the future rate. Using our traffic video systems, we captured the entries and exits to the parking lot at each access driveway. Simple math allowed us to then determine the peak parking for the existing site and the rate based on square footage. Using this rate for the existing use, we then determined the future parking use with additional buildings.

-Determine future parking demand based on parking generation. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and we at Spack Consulting have both developed parking rates for various land uses based on prior studies. Using these rates, we calculated the expected parking demand for the entire site, both existing land uses and proposed in-fill development.

-Determine future parking demand based on the typical commercial expectations. We examined the site’s development agreements as well as general guidance regarding retail and restaurant parking needs. From this information, we captured the desired amount of parking for the site if the developers were building new today.

In essence, we examined the parking needs through four different methods. Each resulted in slightly different parking demand. However, only the City code indicated the parking lot would not be able to support the in-fill development. The other three methods showed sufficient parking supply, even after the reduction in spaces for the new buildings, to accommodate the in-fill development. This information gave the City confidence to support a parking variance from their code and allow the developer to move forward.

Right-sizing parking lots is an important function for both developers and cities. If an excessive parking supply is identified, in-fill buildings can provide more services to residents and generate more economic activity for the city. But, these lots need to be studied before moving forward with an in-fill development to avoid creating a parking shortfall for everyday activities that ultimately leads to consumer frustration and less use of the site. Using the multiple methods discussed here is one way to achieve that balance and provide the information to make an appropriate decision.