Austin City Council approved two measures March 21 regarding downtown parking requirements and alleys. Council approved on second reading an ordinance amending city code pertaining to off-street parking and loading requirements as well as a resolution for staff to conduct a study to consider alternative uses for the city's alleys.
One issue of contention of the ordinance amending off-street parking and loading requirements pertained to handicapped parking requirements for businesses. Councilwoman Laura Morrison amended the ordinance to make off-street handicapped parking required for a business that is using a building of 6,000 square feet or more, rather than the 12,000 square feet the ordinance designated.
Councilman Chris Riley said he had some concern about that provision from the feedback he has heard from the community.
"We have heard concerns from owners of smaller, existing buildings downtown that they are simply unable to provide parking on-site because the buildings were not originally built with parking," Riley said. "If they are required to provide accessible parking in connection with uses greater than 6,000 square feet, there will simply be no additional use at all. The building will not get that larger use."
Morrison said there still is the opportunity for those businesses to provide the additional disabled parking on-street rather than off-street.
"I think that's a nice way to try and balance the priorities we're trying to balance," Morrison said.
The issue of alleys was a common theme between both items. Council also approved City Manager Marc Ott to provide options and a timeline for a downtown alley master plan by June 20. Councilwoman Kathie Tovo said she would like to look at the alleys as means to create "more public, more pedestrian, more bicycle-friendly activities" for the public.
"In some cities, they're looking at ways to close down the alleys and make it a green space," Tovo said.
One point of contention between council members over the alleys was whether loading and unloading should be a permissible use in the alleys. Tovo said allowing that use would limit the more creative options she was hoping to explore with the alleys, but Riley said the intention of the alleys was to provide loading and unloading access, and he wanted to make sure the alleys still could be used for that purpose.
"[Alleys] serve a very valuable purpose of being able to ensure we have a convenient place for loading and unloading," he said. "The result is we wind up with fewer places where we're required to do those sorts of things on the street, where they can pose real problems for all kinds of traffic: vehicular, pedestrians and bicycle."